Diversity and inclusion training: a 5-Step guide to workplace inclusivity

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are the gateway to a thriving and inclusive workplace. Even though it's meant to open doors to marginalized communities, most still fail to hit the mark—begging the question of what's going wrong. 

For instance, 97% of human resources (HR) leaders believe these programs bring real change, whereas only 37% of employees agree. It shows the glaring disparity between the perspectives of leadership and employees—indicating the need for more robust and effective programs.

But how do we get there? Diversity and inclusion training programs.

Instead of looking at DEI as a box you need to tick on corporate initiatives, look at it from a holistic perspective. You need to invest resources to identify the gaps in your current systems and fill those holes with ongoing training. 

Below, we’ve explained how you can implement DEI training programs to actually turn your organization into an inclusive and equitable space.

What is diversity and inclusion training?

Diversity and inclusion training is designed to improve awareness of inclusive behaviors in the workplace and an appreciation of diversity.  

Employees and leaders are given the tools necessary to embrace differences and challenge workplace biases—for an intentionally diverse and equitable workplace.

With DEI initiatives struggling to achieve their objectives, such training programs serve as a roadmap for companies that want to achieve these goals eventually. There are several benefits of investing in such programs:

  • Employees and leadership recognize bias in the workplace that impacts decision-making and peer-to-peer relationships.
  • They also improve their understanding of different cultures, ethnicities, and the struggles of different groups.
  • It equips leaders with the tools they need to encourage diverse perspectives—while leveraging the talent of all their employees.
  • Employees are encouraged to recognize and challenge discriminatory behavior while advocating for marginalized groups.
  • It helps HR teams recruit diverse teams based on their talent—not their ethnicity or sexual orientation, for instance.
  • It incentivizes leaders to regularly audit their organizational policies to eliminate potential barriers perpetuating inequality or exclusion.
  • Inclusive environments foster a sense of belonging and safety, increasing employee satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.
  • A diverse workforce allows you to understand and connect with diverse customer bases, leading to improved customer satisfaction and increased market share.

What does the research say about DEI training?

DEI training has a massive impact on the quality of the workplace and your bottom line. It all starts at the granular level. Here’s a list of the most impacted metrics:

Employee engagement

As employees feel like they're at home in the workplace, they're more likely to be productive and engaged. This is because they feel supported at work and have the necessary access and tools to get the job done.

Plus, as a result of higher employee engagement levels, a company’s earnings per share (EPS) also increases with time.

 A study by Gallup found that after the 2009 economic rebound, employee engagement levels were a core differentiator for companies that successfully made a comeback. And those who didn't have favorable engagement levels couldn't match up to their competitors.

Talent attraction

Any employee wants to work for a company that sees them as an asset, not a liability. And companies that don't have strong DEI programs are not favorable career destinations.

 A Glassdoor survey found one in three job candidates will skip a job ad if the company doesn't have a diverse workforce. Those numbers are higher (41%) for both Black and LGBTQ+ individuals, indicating a need to create an equitable workplace.

Employee retention

A SurveyMonkey report found that 30% of white managers believed that diverse employees change their appearance or behavior to fit in. And this was confirmed by 50% of Latinx workers who said they did.

It shows how employees, especially those who don't fit into the seemingly “standard” characteristics, are forced to fit in to hold on to their jobs. Over time, the strain this kind of work environment puts on them leads them to quit, leading to high attrition rates.

Employees who feel like the company celebrates their differences and creates a space for them are more likely to stay.

Organizational profitability

All these aspects ultimately lead to better financial outcomes for the company too.

A McKinsey report found that those who invest in such initiatives have above-average profit margins compared to those who don’t. For instance, companies with gender diversity on the executive team are 25% more likely to have above-average profit margins.

As leadership usually needs hard numbers to validate the investment, it indicates that such initiatives pan out in the long run.


Types of diversity and inclusion training

Here are the different types of diversity, equity, and inclusion training sessions:

Awareness training

Awareness training is focused on increasing situational awareness of concepts like unconscious bias, microaggressions, and stereotypes.

For instance, a finance consultancy publishes guidelines stating that certain hairstyles—especially those worn by Black women—would be considered unprofessional. While they might not explicitly call out a race, hinting at hairstyles worn by such women would be considered a case of unconscious bias. 

This also extends to problem-solving and decision-making skills, as stereotypes cause more harm than good. For example, if you're hiring women but only white women, an unfair hiring process is playing a role.

Basic diversity training

This training provides foundational knowledge of DEI concepts. The goal is to raise awareness, create empathy, and cultivate a culture of respect. Examples of such training programs include:

  • Anti-racism training
  • Anti-sexism training
  • LGBTQ+ awareness
  • Anti-bias training
  • HR compliance training
  • Cultural sensitivity training
  • Ethical training

For example, in a healthcare institution, providers must have good bedside manners while treating patients. For this reason, they must undergo cultural sensitivity training to provide inclusive care to individuals from different backgrounds.

In some cases, the training also focuses on accommodations for certain groups of people, like those with genetic disorders or who need geriatric care.

Advanced diversity training

Advanced workplace diversity training programs are more focused on leadership and management issues. Company culture is typically a top-down process, so leaders must commit to the process to ensure systemic barriers are removed.

“Enhancing inclusion learning at workplaces is not only about effectiveness and efficiency, but also about commitment,” Shruti Swaroop, founder and managing consultant at EMBRACE Consulting, says. “Resistance to change and clinging to dated beliefs—which are natural to happen and part of human psychology—further slows down progress. In my observations, it's apparent that some companies fulfill DEI measures as a legal checklist, not as an embraced practice.”

These programs address systemic barriers, power dynamics, privilege, and intersectionality. For instance, in the finance industry, only 24% of leadership positions are held by women. The number is expected to rise to 28% by 2030, still below parity.

If the executive team only has white men on the board, that mentality trickles down into the organization. It'll be rare to find women and/or people of color in leadership positions.

Skill-based diversity training

These programs delve into development-specific competencies that facilitate DEI efforts. The idea is to offer practical skills to navigate a diverse workplace easily. Some examples include:

  • Inclusive language training
  • Corporate communication training
  • Executive training for cross-border communication

An example of DEI in healthcare could look like communication training for verbally-handicapped individuals. Healthcare practitioners would be required to learn sign language to do their jobs efficiently. It enhances the ability of healthcare providers to build trust, deliver culturally competent care, and improve patient satisfaction.

Diversity audits

Diversity audits assess an organization's current diversity and inclusion practices, policies, and outcomes. The aim is to find areas of improvement by uncovering systemic barriers and measuring progress toward diversity goals.  

This includes a data-driven and qualitative approach (employee feedback) that evaluates the effectiveness of DEI initiatives. Here are a few aspects it includes:

  • Assesses the peer-to-peer and leadership-to-employee communication
  • Understand employee attitudes toward coworkers
  • Determine how employees are feeling in the workplace
  • Audit existing initiatives and chalk up a modification strategy

For instance, an audit can examine application rates, interview-to-hire ratios, and demographic data to identify potential biases or barriers. The audit results inform adjustments to recruitment strategies, training for hiring managers, and initiatives to attract diverse talent.

How do you create an effective DEI training program?

You can create a DEI training program that achieves its key performance indicators (KPIs) using these five steps:

Step 1: Audit current DEI initiatives and identify gaps

You need to gauge how your employees and management feel about existing diversity initiatives. Unless you do, it's hard to chart a path forward.

Start with a pulse survey of all your employees, including leadership. You can use Gartner’s Inclusion Index as a framework to create your questionnaire. Here are the key areas that need to be assessed:

  • Do employees feel like they’re being treated fairly?
  • Do employees respect and value each other’s opinions and differences?
  • Does every team consider diverse perspectives during the decision-making process?
  • Do employees feel psychologically safe at work?
  • Do employees trust the information they receive from upper management?
  • Do employees feel like their peers care about them and offer a safe space to work?
  • Do employees feel like the company’s leadership is as diverse as the rest of the workforce? 

Need an intuitive tool to gather qualitative feedback? Try out Poll Everywhere’s survey tool.

Frame the questions in a way that covers every aspect of the index, giving you a complete overview of the ground reality. But it should also include open-ended, anonymous questions so employees can be honest about their opinions. It gives you real-life examples of things that impact your employees.

Also, include questions about specific initiatives as well. For instance, if you have an employee referral program for recruitment, ask them if it’s contributing or detracting from a potential inclusive workforce. 

This approach allows you to assess workplace DEI quality holistically and pinpoint areas for improvement.

Step 2: Understand your employees’ and company objectives

Every company has its own set of reasons for needing a DEI initiative. For example, they want to create a space for diverse perspectives, such that it improves employee engagement and participation.

You need to create a DEI strategy that aligns with these objectives. And the DEI training program should support that strategy. To do this, talk to your leadership team and determine their goals. This makes it easier to get buy-in at a later stage because the strategy will be in line with their expectations.

Analyze the feedback you've received in your surveys and categorize it into different themes. Zoom in to eventually zoom out and look at more significant issues that affect your workplace. 

For instance, your healthcare providers might feel ill-equipped to handle homeless patients or patients with disabilities because they don't know their issues. On the other hand, your free clinic doesn't seem to get more patients—which could be due to these reasons. So create a dedicated training program that addresses these issues.

Step 3: Devise a DEI training strategy

Now that you have a good outlook on your organization's underlying issues, draft a strategy that rectifies them. In this case, adopt a cross-functional team approach to do this. Different departments will have differing perspectives on the issues that affect them. So when you do this, it encourages them to come together to find a collective solution. 

Also, identify the resources you need to implement the training program. One workshop isn't going to improve cultural competency.

DEI training is an ongoing initiative with several touchpoints to ingrain the core message into the organizational culture. And that takes a lot of resources, including a healthy budget and skilled trainers.

Evaluate the kind of experts you need to bring on, the space you need to rent, and the tools you need to invest in to get an estimate. For example, you can use Poll Everywhere's platform to gather regular feedback as a survey and during DEI training sessions.

Next, create a pilot program to test the waters. For example, instead of asking employees to create employee resources groups (ERGs), get feedback from representative employees and refine the pilot program.

After that, create a small ERG with a dedicated leader and run a few sessions. Based on post-session feedback, refine the program again. This will allow you to create an initiative that makes changes at the ground level.

Step 4: Ensure diversity and inclusion training is ongoing

It’s important to recognize that this is not a one-time event but an ongoing process, and one touchpoint is not going to help you reach your DEI goals. 

Consider a mix of training methods such as workshops, webinars, e-learning modules, coaching, and mentoring programs. This makes the training program accessible to employees at different levels while helping them keep up with best practices on diversity and inclusion.

For instance, you can deliver an employee training session on LGBTQ+ inclusivity online too. Or offer self-paced training courses.

You can also use active listening exercises to gauge engagement and discuss popular questions during the session. But a workshop on facilitated conversions is best tackled in person.

Susanna Romantsova, a DEI strategist and trainer, says that most companies misunderstand DEI training as an act of facilitation, a day of experiential learning, or a type of subject matter training. But it's a potent combination of the three, requiring extensive preparation and continuous training sessions. By offering a range of ongoing training sessions, you'll get closer to your DEI goals.

Step 5: Measure employee feedback and DEI training ROI

Conduct surveys, focus groups, or interviews to gauge participants' experiences, satisfaction levels, and perceived impact on their understanding and behavior.

  • Are employees feeling a positive change in the workplace?
  • Do they feel like it's a more inclusive and safer workplace?
  • Are they more inclined to continue working here in the next two years?

Asking questions like this will give you an idea of whether the program works. These programs are curated to improve employee engagement, productivity, and diversity.

So if your program isn't hitting its KPIs, get feedback and adjust the strategy quarterly or half-yearly. It’ll also help you demonstrate the value of DEI initiatives to stakeholders.

Use diversity and inclusion training to create a strong organizational culture

The only way to create a diverse and inclusive culture is to invest in an ongoing DEI training program that facilitates that goal. To assure that DEI is at the forefront of your organization, modify existing diversity programs and create targeted DEI interventions to enable that.

While it’s not easy to keep a tab on the pulse of your workplace at all times, using tools like Poll Everywhere can help you get closer.

For instance, use our survey tool to create pulse surveys for feedback at every stage of the implementation process. Or use it to get in-session feedback from your employees so that trainers can resolve the most pressing questions in real-time—while creating an engaging learning atmosphere.

Using this feedback, you can create more tailored programs using methods your employees are the most receptive to. At the end of it, it'll show them that you care about their input, creating a program that holds their attention in the long term. 

Schedule a free demo with Poll Everywhere today to see how we can help you improve the interactivity of your DEI training sessions.