Making Diversity Trainings Work

In recent years, the demand for diversity trainings has remarkably increased, partly because companies have developed an understanding that communicating effectively with people having different backgrounds is crucial as multiculturalism is growing more than ever. However, another notable reason is that top-level executives fear that employees may be discriminated because of their skin colour, age, gender, religion, or another cultural characteristic, and that there could be problematic legal consequences. Whatever the reason, understanding the role of diversity and multiculturalism in our daily and professional lives, how to become aware of and deal with our biases, and how we can better respect values of other people have upmost importance.

However, the problem is most of these trainings fail to achieve their goals, whether it’s teaching people to respect others who have different cultural characteristics, working on their prejudices and biases they hold about different cultural groups, or decreasing possible discriminative behaviours in the company. They might even backfire in some cases.  But why? Here, I list a few reasons which I believe need attention.

Making these trainings obligatory.

In most cases, it’s obligatory for employees to participate in these trainings. This is a problem, because when participation is not voluntary you imply that the only motive for organising such a training is to prevent any legal problems that may occur in the future. As a result, people become suspicious and develop negative opinions about these events. By making them voluntary, you can satisfy one of the basic psychological needs of people  – autonomy- which in turn will create a more positive impact as people will be more motivated.

Too much focus on categorisation exercises.

Trainers love exercises which require participants to form small groups based on one of their characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity. Although categorisations help us make sense of our world in general, in this case they have the potential to trigger negative emotions such as despise and even hatred, and decrease our respect toward a given group. It’s critical to acknowledge the fact that we are more than a single characteristic.

Ignoring the similarities.

As the name implies, diversity trainings are about diversity which lead us to extensively focus on the “differences” between people and groups. However, we are also similar in many respects. In fact, we have more similarities than differences. Diversity trainings should point out the similarities as well as the differences.

Not focusing on skills.

People need to develop certain skills which will help them connect with others in a meaningful way, and show respectful attitudes. As compared to categorising participants according to what makes them different, trainings that emphasise humanistic values and turn these values into practical skills are always more powerful. Among these important skills are empathy skills, communication skills, positive regard and acceptance skills.

Onetime workshops/seminars.

Diversity trainings should help institutions turn diversity principles into overall values of the organisational culture. A couple of hours a year won’t achieve much. Trainings must be more comprehensive and delivered throughout a year, serve the unique needs of employees in a given organisation, and encourage managers to hire people from diverse backgrounds.

Failing to evaluate the outcomes.

Just because there is a training doesn’t mean that it will work. Organisations should evaluate whether the trainings actually work by keeping in touch with employees who received the trainings, checking institutional records to see if a related incident (such as discrimination, mobbing etc.) happen, checking who are promoted and who are not, and keeping an eye on the situation of minority groups (in terms of age, gender, education level, health status etc.).

These are among the important factors that you might need to consider in designing or receiving some sort of a diversity training. In order to create a more accepting and tolerant society, I recommend having a wider and a multiple perspective when considering the characteristics of others.

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