This is a two-part column: This paints the bad and the ugly of diversity and inclusion training, and the second, in this space next week, brings to light the good of it.
In my two decades in diversity and inclusion research, education and consulting, I have seen and heard a lot about why some diversity “trainings” lead to unintended consequences by aggravating participants’ perception of differences.
Diversity should be the celebration of differences in individuals and in organizations. Inclusion is the integration and bridging of these differences to form a single corps in which some differences are accepted and nurtured to the benefits of all, while individuals still keep their identity.
The ways people differ lead either to crisis or opportunity: Crisis comes when differences cause conflicts and block harmony, progress and synergy. Opportunity abounds when differences are combined to create harmony, progress and overall synergy.
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The bad and the ugly of cultural education present themselves in various forms. Since the Supreme Court ruled that training can be “part of a legal defense against punitive damages in discrimination cases,” most organizations feel the moral obligation to offer some type of training to employees regardless of its effectiveness.
Let’s analyze just a few bad, but quite ubiquitous, practices these days:
1. Mandatory requirements. Employees have to sit in training for as little time as one hour per year in order to meet their yearly continuing education requirements.
This is the case of numerous law enforcement agencies across the nation where police officers need just one hour a year of “racial profiling” course to meet their POST (Peace Officer Training and Standards) requirements. Given the vastness of human behaviors, the infinity of variations of cultural attitudes and the immensity of situations people may find themselves in, it is insufficient to grasp cultural insights of multiple cultures in one hour a year.
2. Online training is becoming increasingly in demand but less and less effective. Given the convenience it offers in terms of cost and location, organizations are dumping online training on their staff and checking off the “diversity training” box.
Numerous employees shared with me that they had taken the same “diversity training” for many years; now, they skip the entire training, take the test as they already know all the answers from previous years.
3. In many cases, trainers carry the burden of cultural education malpractices. When presented as an opportunity to blame the whites, rebellions inevitably follow; the cultural message is lost or blocked, not only for the current session and facilitator, but also for future ones.
The result is catastrophic at the minimum. No one wants to be seated at a workshop and feel that they are being targeted and accused of eventual faults of others. Additionally, the business case for diversity education should counter the sometimes widespread belief that it is a moral or social favor for the benefits of ethnic minorities. No! Cultural diversity and inclusion is a two-way street for the benefit of all.
4. When diversity is introduced as a remedy or as reactive solution to unfortunate events that have occurred, such as lawsuits or the reputation of the organization exposed by the media, the approach generally focuses on one element of the intervention. The organization thus fails to see the big picture of offering overall cultural competency training to its employees.
5. Training presented as a celebration of historical events fails to meet its educational goals to change attitudes. Bringing someone to the company to share a list of achievements of historical African-Americans icons during Black History Month is perfectly fine, but it should not be considered as “Annual Cultural Diversity Training.” Stand-alone recognition of ethnic celebrities, just as statistical data, should be used as reinforcement in cultural training and infused in educational curricula.
These are just a few of the many reasons why some diversity initiatives fail. The next column in this space will highlight the good approach to cultural diversity and inclusion education.