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8 Tips for successful diversity and inclusion training

The history of diversity and inclusion training can be traced back to the 1950’s.  Many men returned to their workplaces following the end of the Second World War to discover that women had been covering the men’s positions during their absence.  Little more than a decade before, the British workplace had predominantly been a white male environment, and some found the change perplexing.  The ethos of equal opportunity for all, free from prejudice and discrimination, began to be discussed albeit with limited success.

Since then, much has been written about the success and failure of diversity and inclusion training courses and many who have been in the workplace for a while can highlight a negative experience or two.

However, when employers get it right, diversity and inclusion training can be educational, inspiring and make a difference to the whole workforce with the benefits enjoyed by all.  A couple of feedback comments received following attendance on a training workshop illustrate the value training can bring to an organisation’s equality, diversity and inclusion agenda:

“Interesting and informative discussions in an open and relaxed environment.”
“… am now more confident in moving forward and challenging issues around equality, diversity/inclusion.”

8 tips for successful diversity and inclusion training

1. Don’t make the training compulsory but offer it to everyone
If training is not approached with an open mind, it will not succeed. It’s been reported that hostility towards other groups can increase following the anger felt by some to mandatory training. Conversely, when training is voluntary it can lead to better results as attendees believe they are showing support for diversity and inclusion by turning up. Accept that diversity and inclusion is a topic which will bring challenges along with its opportunities.

2. Buy-in from senior management and executives is important and should be visible
If those leading the organisation are seen to attend the training and be keen to prioritise the goal of diversity and inclusion, it will send out a message that will encourage others to get on-board.

3. Offer training proactively and ask for help, don’t make threats
Holding up the legal case for diversity and inclusion and highlighting what happens to those that get it wrong can be interpreted as a threat and won’t be well received. Done badly, diversity and inclusion training can damage otherwise amicable working relationships through the belief that co-workers are even more biased than they thought at the start of the training. Research has shown that if people hear about others’ biases, it can heighten their own. However, if they feel they are surrounded by people who are actively fighting against stereotypes and prejudices, they too will fight against them.

4. Use positive language
If attendees understand that this isn’t a ‘them’ and ‘us’ scenario, that we are all biased, all try to fight it and it is not anyone’s fault, they are more likely to get on board and be more open and motivated to make changes.

5. Don’t make it a tick box exercise
If employees see it simply as HR fulfilling an organisational obligation, they will treat it as a tick box exercise themselves and everyone’s time will have been wasted.

6. Make it authentic and meaningful
Allow people to see its importance to their everyday working and business success. If they see the top leadership of their organisation on board and realise transparency will be required in decisions affecting diversity and inclusion, it encourages employees, peers and managers to attend.

7. Use role-play with extreme caution
Accept that in most workplaces, employees will have differing opinions and beliefs and may not even like each other. They must, however, communicate and work together. Including role-play exercises on the sensitive topics diversity and inclusion training will raise, where employees are required to share information about themselves, won’t make for a more inclusive or pleasant workplace following the training.

8. Utilise skilled trainers
Diversity and inclusion training cover delicate topics and discussions handled incorrectly can quickly escalate with damaging results. A skilled and experienced trainer will ensure that those attending feel it is being carried out in a safe space where they are shielded from embarrassment and empowered to take part in discussions. They will then leave the course with a more pro-active attitude and put the new information and suggested tools to practical use.


“Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”
Jacqueline Woodson

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