Running Your Business

How to Approach Diversity Training in the Workplace


  • Diversity training programs can improve employee retention, morale and recruitment efforts while reducing workplace harassment

  • Perspective-training and goal setting are two diversity training approaches that have been proven effective

  • Tailor these programs to the specific needs of your business

Posted by January 30, 2018

Not all diversity training in the workplace is created equal.

Some approaches are more effective than others; because diversity training is so beneficial for employees and business owners alike, it’s important that your program is strong. According to Small Business Chronicle, diversity training “improves employee retention, increases morale, reduces workplace harassment and improves recruitment efforts to create a more diverse work force.”

So, how should you approach diversity training in the workplace to ensure your program will make an impact? Scholars Eden King, Alex Lindsey, Ashley Membere and Ho Kwan Cheung wrote in Harvard Business Review about types of diversity training that work. Their research—which included looking back over 40 years worth of diversity training evaluation—found that two particular methods were most effective.

Perspective-Talking

There’s an old proverb that says if you want to understand someone, walk a mile in his or her shoes. King et al. found this to be true. The team asked students to imagine their life as a person in a different group, specifically focusing on LGBT individuals and racial minorities. Then, the students wrote a few sentences from this perspective. Doing this helped students to think outside their own world, and this improved pro-diversity attitudes.

When the researchers followed up eight months later, they still found the students to have positive attitudes. One super exciting aspect of this training was that they found a “cross-over” effect. Students who wrote from one perspective also gained positive feelings and behaviors toward other minority groups. Oftentimes, it’s simply the act of thinking outside of yourself that can make things better.

Goal Setting

This is the second type of diversity training that showed promise. With this method, the research team asked participants (again, students) to set “specific, measurable and challenging (yet attainable) goals related to diversity in the workplace.” Keep in mind that this is attitude-based and not hiring-based. This is not setting a goal to hire a certain number of minorities, but rather a goal to change interactions.

During the study, a trainee made a goal to speak up when he heard inappropriate comments about any marginalized groups. Participants were also given training on how to speak up. These specific goals had long-lasting impacts. The students showed improved pro-diversity attitudes nine months after the training.

Cautions to Keep in Mind

As with many studies, this research involved undergraduate students—who are a decidedly different group than middle-aged middle managers. You probably need to tweak a few things to make the findings applicable to your employees.

Additionally, you’ll want to focus on specific diversity issues that your business faces. Not every business in every town has the same issues. For instance, if you live in an area with a large immigrant group from a particular country or region, it makes sense to teach your staff about this particular group instead of focusing on a canned program from a national provider.

Finally, the team of researchers found that having senior-level support is critical to success. If the senior team ignores diversity training and only requires lower-level personnel to attend, it sends a message that they are strictly checking a box and don’t actually care about increasing positive attitudes toward marginalized groups.

Even if everyone in your town has the same background as you, you still live in an incredibly diverse society. Diversity training in the workplace is essential to making your employees feel comfortable working for your company—and it can have long-lasting, positive effects for everyone involved.

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