Last week, we analyzed a few of the many reasons why some diversity initiatives fail.
In his book, “The Diversity Directive,” Robert Hayles advocates that in order for diversity and inclusion to be effective in any organization, it needs to start with the involvement of each individual.
For individuals, diversity involves three main components that I would characterize as “the three Hs”: the Head (what we know); the Hand (how we act), and the Heart (how we feel). To Hayes, diversity starts with understanding own culture and learning about others’ cultures.
The better we know about others, the better we can modify our behavior to adapt to the differences. Finally, we will be able to grow emotionally and develop strong relationships with people who are different from us.
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This process cannot be achieved in one session of diversity workshop, be it very long in time. In my practice, whenever possible, I would always recommend, for example, four one-hour sessions (separate by some reflection time) to one long four-hour session.
During the last 10 years, we conducted empirical research on predictors of intercultural effectiveness, diversity education and cross-cultural education in organizations. We surveyed the clients who hired us, and others, in small and large organizations.
The study revealed some legitimate concerns they have about diversity and inclusion education. The following were the four most frequent observations.
1. Cultural diversity is often too long. Training ranging from days to a whole week takes many employees away from work for too long, thus hindering productivity. As a consequence, some organizations decide to simply avoid cultural education all together. Concise sessions are becoming increasingly popular in the profession.
Three Harvard and MIT scientists independently studied memory capacity, and concluded that on average, an individual can remain focused on a learning task for about 45 minutes.
Additionally they advise that to facilitate memorization and learning, people should always break up learning material into multiple separate sessions and “space out” the material rather than condensing it in long hours, and study in chunked sessions as our ability to retain information diminishes after 45 minutes. Short messages are internalized, retained, and easy to remember for a long time.
2. Cultural diversity is often too costly. As a result, cultural programs become the first thing to cut when time and money are in short supply.
Advantages of affordability were mentioned and included: easy fit in any budget, does not require multiple layers of approvals, and allows the organization to train greater segments of employees.
3. Cultural diversity is often too rigid: employees in one organization often have a wide range of cultural understanding but are all offered the same training.
Training modules must take employees at their current level of development of cultural sensitivity and moved them to a higher level. This requires smaller number of participants.
4. Cultural diversity is often too generic. When diversity education does not meet the needs and goals of an industry or profession, it is disconnected from the reality, and becomes irrelevant.
It’s obvious that there are numerous advantages to customizing workshops by, so that the organization is educated specifically in the type of cultures suitable to their industry or profession.
Because all humans take in and process information differently, express emotions in so many ways, uniformity in diversity education brings mediocre results. Because no two sessions can be the same, trainers must constantly reinvent themselves to adapt to the needs and types of participants.