Here’s what your diversity training might be missing

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With voluntary employee turnover costing US companies $ 1 trillion annually, diversity and inclusion is an area that companies cannot afford to overlook. Furthermore, numerous studies have now shown how the lack of a diverse and inclusive culture has led to high turnover, less innovation and organizational performance issues.

Your DEI program may seem to have all the pieces: a solid, cross-functional board / committee, active ERGs, talent acquisition data and employee engagement activities, workshops and eLearning, newsletters, signage and communications supporting the DEI business strategy .

Despite all of this, it is possible that you are not yet truly building a culture of diversity and inclusion. To determine if you are truly developing a diverse and inclusive culture, ask these questions:

Are leaders and managers receiving empathy, communication, and emotional intelligence training?

Most DEI programs in the workplace neglect how related skills such as communication, emotional intelligence and conflict management are to build a diverse and inclusive culture. Often they just focus on “making the moves”, without getting into the skills that can really help incorporate an inclusive culture into the organization.

Fundamental to the success of DEI in the workplace is building the capacity for empathy: the ability to understand someone’s point of view and actually try it like a shirt, as if it were your own. People who have empathy aren’t just saying and doing the “right things”. They are forming a deep understanding of those who are different. Empathy is a skill that is becoming increasingly essential for workplace effectiveness.

In many cases, the DEI workshops and training include some interaction, but this interaction is often intellectual and abstract, discussing concepts and methods rather than inviting real stories, feelings and experiences.

One of the best ways to train empathy is to build a culture of storytelling. Create spaces for storytelling in the workplace. This can be live events, an open mic session on Zoom, a company vlog or podcast or newsletter. Whatever it is, make sure employees have the ability to regularly share and be seen for their unique identities. Allow the differences to be truly celebrated.

Formal learning is traditionally a one-way process – watch this eLearning video, listen to this instructor, do these exercises, take this multiple choice quiz, etc. However, it is through real-life experience and stories that people are truly activated to create change and act on what they learn.

Leadership and management play a huge role in inspiring this effort. Encourage leaders to take communication and storytelling training courses as a means of inspiring the workforce to share their stories.

Related: 7 Ways Leaders Can Level Up Their DEI workplace strategy

Are you applying DEI concepts to day-to-day operations?

Diversity and inclusion efforts will largely be wasted if other daily operations in the workplace remain exactly the same. Then, focus on how DEI concepts can be applied to real work situations.

Here are some ideas (which can also be implemented virtually):

  • Organize multiple cross-functional meetings, allowing for cross-pollination of ideas and better transparency within the organization.

  • Change the way meetings are held to make room for less heard voices.

  • Develop a company-sponsored lunch that matches random employees each week to go along with a subsidized lunch.

  • Redesign teams to be more diverse if they aren’t already.

Whatever your personal comfort level with change, there are many ways you can make sure you create opportunities and spaces for different types of employees to interact and learn from each other.

Related: Here’s how to have the most powerful DEI conversations

Are your DEI policies and processes fair?

Too often, DEI is treated as a black and white issue within companies (no pun intended): there is the “right” way and the “wrong” way. Policies and processes can be punitive and fear-inducing, rather than tolerant and empathetic, inhibiting, rather than encouraging, communication.

Remember that DEI involves a change of mindset for every individual and for the workplace, and no one will ever do it 100%. Prejudice is an ingrained aspect of the mind and human existence, and overcoming prejudice is a process that takes time and active practice. Therefore, make sure your policies create enough space to be able to discern well-intentioned mistakes from malicious ones.

True harassment, discrimination, speech and hate speech must certainly be punished and eradicated from the organization. However, people can also make unintended mistakes and learn from them. Create policies and processes that allow for discernment, empathy and constructive feedback.

Are you measuring the right things, in the right ways?

What metrics are you using to measure the success of DEI’s efforts? Are you sure these are the best metrics for determining business impact?

For example, if the business goal is to increase engagement in training workshops, simply measuring the increase in attendance is not necessarily the best metric. What if there are multiple attendees, but they’re all tuned in?

Avoid surveys when you can, as survey fatigue can become a real phenomenon for many employees. Explore other forms of people analytics, such as observing or even conducting an organizational network analysis to observe how your organization communicates and interacts. Information like this can help design strategies to enable greater inclusion and collaboration.

Related: 6 Signs Your Diversity & Inclusion Program Needs A Revision

There is no magic formula for the success of DEI. Therefore, DEI appears to be less of a goal and more of a collective process: a journey for the organization and for each individual. It is a collaborative exploration, a challenge of our own assumptions and prejudices at all times, and an active willingness to continually learn. It is not just a workshop or a program, but a challenge to the prevailing culture and the inclusion of a “new way of doing things”.

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