Because diversity training is just the worst, isn’t it?

Office life

Is there anything in the wild world of work that elicits more eye-rolling, arm-crossing, sighing for effect, air quotes, and sphincter-puckering than diversity training?

There is a real fire and ice dynamic to my work. About half of my speaking engagements are for conferences and similar kinds of events. These audiences are generally forward leaning, they have chosen to be there and are wanting to learn something. Sometimes they are even excited! The other half of my speaking engagements are for client organizations, and some of these audiences are not forward leaning. Not all of them have chosen to be there, some of them are visibly unhappy, and some of them are downright pissed. I walk into a fair number of conference rooms, full of folks with arms crossed, giving me the stink eye. I love those rooms and the people in them and we always end up in a righteous place, but it is a difficult way to begin what is supposed to be a learning experience.

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”
–Herbert Spencer

Why do people dislike diversity training so much? Lots of answers to that question I would guess. There remain a good many misperceptions about diversity and inclusion in general, and D & I training certainly suffers from some of that. There are folks that have had a bad D&I training experience, and have Diversity Training Anxiety Disorder. Some folks simply are not comfortable talking about this stuff, some folks dislike training in general. Lots of answers.

More importantly, how do we make it better?

Your organization is unique. Your unique culture, combination of people, history, priorities and circumstances are going to shape what you need to accomplish with your training, how you build it, package it and provide it. There are some aspects of this that you simply need to sort through on your own, but I would like to help you be more successful.  Regardless of whether you deliver it yourself or you bring in help from outside, I would like your D&I training to have greater impact.

Our training needs to have greater impact, there is much work to be done.

This is the initial post of a series that I will spread out over the next couple of months focused on diversity and inclusion training. My initial plan is to write a post examining each of the following aspects of training:

  1. The Basics
  2. Objectives
  3. Mandatory vs. Not
  4. Measurement
  5. Leadership Involvement and Support
  6. Behavior Change
  7. Before and Beyond the Training
  8. Weaving Diversity Training Into Other Touch Points
  9. Core Topics, Messages, Themes

Anything missing? Anything you would like to see added to the list?

Be good to each other.

  1. Stuart Chittenden

    Hello Joe,

    I know I have nothing to add, as you are the very person I turn to precisely for such counsel and guidance. Less something to add to the list, than a query about how you weave in to the programming issues around personal shame, embarrassment and vulnerability? You mentioned how some people are very defensive in these experiences, and I wonder how much of that comes from that person’s guilt (deserved or not)?

    Also, I have been pondering Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort” and, if he is right that communities are increasingly self-segregating, then would it make sense that your work can only get harder (and more necessary) as we shut ourselves away from the “other”? How do you engage your audience in awakening to that scenario in their environment?

    Thanks for what you do, Joe.

  2. Joe Gerstandt

    Hi Stuart, thanks for the comment. As far as shame, embarrassment and vulnerability…it kind of depends on what kind of session I am doing. If I have a few hours to spend with a smaller group of folks, yes I will at least touch on those things at least as barriers for honest conversation, sharing of information, learning, etc. The self segregation stuff is pretty central to one of my primary focuses which is helping folks better understand human nature…part of which is dynamics like “homophily,” which is less about pushing away from difference, but more about the natural pull toward people we think are like us. So, absent of any hatred or bad intentions or fear, we tend to end up with networks of relationships full of people very much like us. I even have folks do a bit of a network analysis that allows them to do a bit of a demographic analysis of the people that they spend their time with, trust, influence, get information from, etc. Its kind of eye opening for folks. You cannot change what you do not acknowledge, so providing people with some new and convincing evidence of human nature tends to be pretty valuable.

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