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Same Sh*t, Different Day? Diversity Training in the Workplace

A long-term study conducted by a sociologist at the University of Arizona found that mandatory diversity training actually delivered counter-productive results: Women and ethnic minorities came to represent fewer and fewer managers after the mandatory training.

So, does this mean it is altogether ineffective to train employees in issues of diversity in the workplace?

We’ll get back to that in just a minute. First, a look at some circumstances.

Diversity in America

The United States, the Great Melting Pot, presents an interesting case for diversity because diversity is such a key piece of the narrative that describes the nation’s history, and it will remain a major theme going forward.

By 2050, Caucasions will no longer constitute a majority in the US. Whites will remain the largest racial group, but they won’t outnumber all other individuals from every other represented racial group.

This alone means diversity is not something to be ignored or dismissed. People with diverse backgrounds and identities will continue to make up an ever-increasing portion of the nation’s workforce, regardless of whether companies train employees to understand this.

But the question remains: Can employees be trained effectively to handle workplace diversity?

Asking Different Questions

Opening up the discussion to broader topics is enlightening. Don’t ask about diversity. Ask whether the people in your organization can adapt to change, whatever that change may be.

Being able to respond to changing landscapes and demands is simply smart business, and this skill ensures an organization’s viability.

Thinking in these terms accomplishes two things: First, it still addresses diversity because new people are bound to bring about new ideas and experiences, the drivers of change. Second, re-framing the question de-personalizes the issue and gets the trainees out of an Us vs. Them mindset.

Ideally, we will all be able to celebrate our differences. After all, research suggests contact with diverse ideas and people of different backgrounds stimulates innovation – a key component in our modern economy.

Of course, there are always individuals or groups who may be resistant to change because they feel a push to diversify threatens their status or their power. This problem cannot be ignored away.

So, back to diversity as something to train for.

Addressing Diversity Authentically

You need to consider your goals in addressing diversity issues. Is it to improve your company’s working environment, or is it for the sake of compliance?

Anyone can see through a move to simply “get compliant.” Paying lip service to diversity does not sit well with a diverse workforce, and likely be counter-productive.

Training that reflects an authentic desire to create an inclusive environment, though, can be empowering. Therefore, ensuring a flexible, dynamic workforce requires that you tackle diversity head-on … so long as you mean what you say.

Such training will touch on developing a capacity to identify and empathize with what others believe and value. Frame this as a step towards better communication, which in turn achieves your business goals.

Then let the empathic communication skills teach their own lessons about diversity.

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