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I mentioned recently that the biggest goal of DEI training is to provide the knowledge and skills for employees and leaders to create and foster a more inclusive work environment. Having created and facilitated hundreds of DEI training across various topics, I still wrestle with whether DEI training achieves its intended goal. While the training has been popular for many years, surveys report seeing little improvement in the state of DEI and skepticism in employee perception of their organization’s DEI efforts.

Whether DEI training is effective has been explored in numerous studies that don’t provide a clear answer, and a recent one provides some insight but still no answer. It’s difficult to measure the impact of DEI training on organizational change because there are so many other variables at play, such as the culture of the organization and its leadership, other programs that impact company culture, and the other components of the company’s DEI strategy.

Although we may not be able to answer all questions about the impact of diversity training, we do know that when it’s done right, it’s an important part of a well-rounded initiative.

In my experience, backlash from diversity training comes when it is not thoughtfully implemented. Over the years, I’ve addressed the following major issues that make training ineffective or counterproductive. These pitfalls are easy to fall into, but also easy to avoid.

  • Making training mandatory.  Studies show that mandatory training backfires, and DEI training is no exception. Find non-mandatory ways to motivate employees to attend.  Sponsoring meals, selecting exciting topics, and getting company leaders to participate are ways to incentivize attendance at DEI training. Collaborate across the company to ensure that no other meetings or events occur during that time, so employees don’t have scheduling conflicts.
  • Infrequent training.  Don’t take a one-and-done approach.  A consistent training cadence helps employees build strong foundational knowledge that enables them to be allies and DEI champions in the company.
  • There are only one or two training topics.  Employees won’t progress in their knowledge of DEI if they only attend training on unconscious bias. Offer an array of different topics such as microaggressions, power and privilege, and systemic racism.
  • Training is disconnected from the strategy. DEI training should be carefully curated to the needs of your organization and should align with your strategic goals. Does your organization have very few women in leadership? Provide training on gender bias to help employees and leaders understand how it impacts the hiring, retention, and promotion of women in the workplace. Ensure that it works with other programs in your DEI strategy to increase the representation of women in leadership.
  • Using an inexperienced facilitator.  DEI topics can get contentious and often provoke intense emotions. Many topics are nuanced and require an understanding of history, human psychology, and a command of conflict resolution skills to navigate a session that motivates self-improvement and inspires change in attendees. These demands typically are best managed by engaging a qualified and experienced training facilitator knowledgeable in DEI as well as how to respond to employee concerns/emotions in a sensitive, professional and compassionate manner.
  • Training is long. Long training sessions set the bar too high for attendee availability and deters employees because they don’t feel like they can make out the time and still deliver on their work that day.  If they attend a long training, they may only attend once yearly because it feels like such a hefty time commitment. While there’s often so much content to cover, I recommend limiting most training to one hour.
  • Team leaders and company leaders don’t attend.  It’s important for managers to progress in their own DEI journeys for the company’s culture to transform. When company leaders don’t attend training sessions, employees notice, which signals that leaders don’t care about DEI. And if leaders don’t care about DEI, why should everyone else? Remember to bring managers and other company leaders on the learning journey.

To start planning your DEI training programs this year, check out our checklist (Planning DEI Training).

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile