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Set the Stage for Diversity Training

Teenage Rock Singer

Someone must have forgotten to inform organizations that training on the topic of diversity is not the same as training on computer software. There is no checklist where employees can mark the box next to their pre-training and post-training level of diversity awareness to identify the new shift in organizational culture that will be taking place. It is not as simple as providing definitions of key terms or providing a handout identifying the differences between diversity and affirmative action.

Training on diversity requires a deeper dive into the cognitive reframing, allowing students to reframe the way they view and experience ideas, events and concepts. A truly skilled facilitator understands this but is often times limited by the demands of the client, setting the stage for a training session that will allow employees to check the box but that ends with no long-term results.

So, how can an organization show its commitment to embracing a culture of diversity to capitalize on the talents of its total workforce?

Organizations can implement training methodology that will show their commitment to a long-term climate shift valuing diversity. In doing so, they will demonstrate their pledge to diversity and increase their cultural competency, resulting in a favorable return on investment. One student recently approached her trainer and said, “This training is different. It’s making me think and I think that’s the point.” Not only was it the point, it was the requirement. Training on diversity does not have to be an emotional rollercoaster, but it does have to invoke enough internal reflection that adaptive change may occur.

Adaptive change is one of the most difficult behaviors to take place because it involves changes to students’ hearts and minds. It requires an awakening of emotions that may result in resistance to change. This forces students to confront their habits, beliefs, routines and values by questioning everything about their identity at the current point in their lives. Additionally, it challenges their competence and can leave them feeling a loss of identity. However, the trainer will ultimately encourage a new awakening of empowerment as the students share their experiences and use their newly gained knowledge to clarify areas of opportunity.

Constructing the curriculum and delivery method for diversity training requires the trainer to take on the mindset of the student by first answering certain questions: what’s in it for me, how will it change my job and what difference will this really make. A trainer must be able to answer these questions to effectively hold the attention of the students and show value in the content being delivered.

In the past, trainers may have adapted their own developmental methodologies to approach training programs that encompassed competencies, or employed self-written books focused on their training. However, examples of current, research-based methodology that works when delivering diversity training programs are the concerns-based adoption model and the adaptive change model. These two models are similar in that they support individual change and recognize that students are going to advance in the types of questions they ask themselves and how they use this change. They differ in that one program focuses on the concern of the individual, while the other focuses on the transformation of the system or organization.

While utilizing these or other developmental methodologies, it is important for the trainer to employ delivery techniques that complement them. The successful trainer should:

  • Encourage questions from the students.This will keep them engaged and will improve recall for use in the future.
  • Play devil’s advocate.Don’t allow students to become disengaged. Ask them questions to stimulate thinking about key learning points.
  • Circle back to their organizational responsibilities.Challenge your students to relate the learning points to their current leadership role within the organization, as well as to their individual tasks and job requirements.

Professional development is an integral part of every employee’s career path and should not be taken lightly. Diversity training is an adaptive learning process that has a significant effect on employee attitudes and behaviors and greatly enhances their leadership abilities. When done right, diversity training will not only enrich your professional leadership, it will improve the organizational climate and lead to a full utilization of human capital.

This article originally appeared in Chief Learning Officer's sister publication, Diversity Executive.