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DEI Training: How does it fit into your wider strategy?

Author: Cassie Myers

Diversity, equity and inclusion training is a critical part of any diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy. The US alone spends an estimated $8 billion a year on DEI training (Forbes). But in the spirit of ensuring this training is impactful and effective, a few questions arise, including what role does DEI training play? And how should organizations design their DEI training? In this blog, we answer these questions to help readers interweave training into their wider DEI initiatives. 

What is DEI training? 

There are multiple forms of DEI training. Most commonly, training falls into one of two categories based on its outcomes; attitudinal or behavioral. Attitudinal training commonly focuses on changing the perceptions, beliefs and motivations of a learner; with respect to DEI this might be to believe that discrimination is wrong and that DEI actions are needed (Bexrukova, Jehn, Spell, Rutgers University). Behavior training aims to change how a learner acts in a given situation; with respect to DEI, this might be to avoid discriminatory or bystander behaviors (Bexrukova, Jehn, Spell, Rutgers University). 

Beyond the intended goal of training is the mode of delivery. In this blog, we outline a few of the different training vehicles and why someone might use them over another. 

Coaching: the 1:1 approach

Coaching is a mode in which a coach works with a learner individually. In a coaching relationship, an individual commonly works with a coach over a longer duration of time and works within the beliefs, values and expectations of the individual learner. This mode of learning is helpful when the individual needs to understand and master specific DEI skills. Commonly supervisors, directors, board members or DEI managers engage in coaching to master DEI skills as their activities consistently and directly influence DEI for an entire organization. While coaching can have an immense impact on how a learner approaches a variety of aspects of their lives, it requires dedicated time, finances and a commitment to change. 

Workshops: the group approach

Workshops are group learning environments in which an instructor covers a predetermined topic of interest. Workshops are most effective when an organization knows what specific DEI topics or areas learners need to be versed in. Commonly, as the number of workshop participants increases, individual interactivity (dialogues, breakout conversations, brainstorming) decreases. For organizations looking to cover a wider set of topics, some might engage a firm to offer a series of workshops over a period of time. For organizations with a specific list of topics to explore, some might engage a variety of firms for different purposes as needed. Workshops can be useful tools to engage an audience needing the same training, but due to the isolated nature of workshops, they can be challenging to use as modes for behavioral training. 

Online courses and modules: the asynchronous approach 

Online courses and modules are opportunities for learners to engage with DEI topics asynchronously or through a loose and flexible schedule. Most online courses and modules focus on attitudinal training as interactivity could be limited. Online courses and modules could be a good option for decentralized teams that can have difficulty gathering for longer periods of time that would be required for a series of coaching sessions or workshops. It also helps cater to individuals who feel more comfortable engaging independently. However, depending on the tool used, it can be difficult to measure learner engagement, promote discussion, and ensure learning outcomes. 

In-person courses and modules: the in-depth approach  

In-person courses and modules are commonly opportunities for learners to gain an in-depth understanding of a particular subject, usually a specific culture, religion, practice or theory. Online courses and modules are great opportunities for team members to engage in deep conversation about a specific topic to pull nuanced insights. However, sSimilar to online courses and modules, while in-person opportunities might pose more opportunities for interactivity, they commonly are best left for attitudinal training. 

Readings: the broad learning approach 

Readings are opportunities for learners to explore a broad DEI theme through a book, article or a series of written work. In the DEI space, readings are commonly paired with a loose schedule and reflective dialogues and/or engagement points; these are provided so that all those who participated are able to unpack the content digested. Readings are great opportunities for learners to engage with a thought-leader that they might not be able to engage with directly and through work that could already have accessible resources (guiding questions, activities, dialogues) to pair with it. Readings pose the challenge of selecting a body of work that represents the DEI goals within the organization and the learners, and might not be great options for learners who prefer to learn through audio, video or other means. 

How does training fit in your wider DEI efforts? 

While training has generally been accepted by most practitioners as a best practice to engage with, it can be difficult to discern where it fits into your wider DEI initiatives. Training is not a one and done action, but something that should be interwoven throughout your strategy. 

A great way to frame this is to position training as something needed before a particular outcome can be realized and after some investigation has been completed to understand what an organization truly needs. A generalized example could be an organization that might have done a DEI audit and discovers that there is a low level of psychological safety among team members in the organization. They also learn that this issue stems from a lack of understanding of what behaviors are expected and how team members are protected. Some interventions a practitioner might consider could include distributing a document that outlines practices to address harm in the workplace. In a case like this, training is a partial answer to the question: ‘what do team members need to be able to understand, uphold and feel protected by this resource?’ In this case, some training might include coaching for leaders to recognize harm and how they perpetuate it. In parallel to coaching for leaders, there can also be workshops for staff to help them understand where harm originates from, how to recognize it and how they can respond to it. 

Training is critical to equip team members with the tools needed to engage with other DEI initiatives (this could be a policy, practice, structure or culture) and improve team member interactions with each other, stakeholders, customers and partners. 

Considerations when choosing DEI training

We’ve outlined below a few considerations organizations might make when looking to implement some form of DEI training to help frame what training to use. 

Create the environment you need for safe learning

Just because a team needs DEI training does not mean that the prerequisites for a safe engagement exist. While training can have inclusive and equitable outcomes, practices need to be in place to ensure that the journey to get there is safe. As people shift in their mindsets and expand their understanding, there is immense potential for harm. This can be the case for live training and for folks practicing something learned through asynchronous learning. While complete safety is not possible, practitioners can implement practices to create safer environments by setting the space, creating methods for reporting harm, safer spaces for marginalized groups and avenues for individuals to unpack content privately with a practitioner. 

Understand the change you are trying to create 

Training should always be based on organizational needs. This not only helps organizations achieve the desired outcomes, but ensures that team members are engaged with the learnings provided and that practitioners have a method to determine if the learning was effective. DEI data can be a useful tool in determining what training an organization needs and why. Further analysis can then help practitioners determine if the content was useful. 

Evaluate team member engagement

Not all team members are brought into the reality of diversity, equity and inclusion. This varying perspective can hinder team members from authentically engaging with training. For some organizations, there is a need to complete precursory work to ensure that team members have a posture ready to absorb and act on training content. This might include setting training expectations, creating an understanding of why training is important, and ensuring leaders are prepared to lead by example. 

We hope this resource was helpful in understanding the role of education in a wider DEI strategy. Whatever mode, topic and cadence you land on, purposeful DEI training should be delivered with a priority for safety, inclusion and long term change.

If you want support implementing some of the suggestions in this resource, book a time with one of our associates.

Header and Feature Image by Susan Q Yin  on Unsplash ❤️

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