The majority of conversations on diversity and inclusion (D&I) revolve around hiring more diverse people and creating inclusive work cultures. Both of these intentions are worthy starting points for creating a more diverse and inclusive organization.

The bigger question is how do we engage and value the diversity we acquire, and what happens to our intention to be diverse behind closed doors? Are we inclusive in meetings and classrooms? Would our learning content pass muster if we looked at it through the lens of inclusivity and acceptance?

A big part of employee engagement and retention are the learning opportunities we offer in our organizations. However, traditionally, classrooms and the content we use within them are built with a generic audience in mind and are not specific to the evolving demographics of the organization. It makes business sense, then, to promote D&I within the context of training environments.

Here are five suggestions to create more inclusive classrooms.

1. Arrange the Room For Diverse Abilities.

A training room can come with many physical limitations, such as stairs to get to the classroom, an unexpected elevation right outside the training room, narrow doorways, and cramped or fixed table settings. None of these hurdles makes it easy to navigate the classroom or even get to it.

Check room access and arrangements from the point of view of an audience with a range of abilities and preferences, and determine how to make it not just accessible but comfortable. This process includes checking bathrooms and other facilities to make sure it will be possible for learners to spend a few hours in training and be independent through the day.

2. Set an Inclusive Tone.

A great deal of the accountability to set an inclusive tone lies with facilitators. It helps to share expectations up front around treating each other with respect, letting everyone share their thoughts freely and completely, and then responding mindfully. Leading by example, you can set the stage for the rest of the day as you demonstrate how to share knowledge, examples and references that stretch your own facilitation and encourage others to follow suit.

3. Check For Inclusive Language.

An unsurprising number of case studies, work scenarios and examples in training refer to a male person. Training content abounds with the pronouns “he,” “him” and “his.” While using “he or she” certainly helps to be inclusive of women, it still leaves out those who identify as non-binary. It’s important to think through how often we use pronouns that refer to men, women and those who identify differently. Adding pronouns such as “they,” “them” and “their” is useful in being more inclusive of non-binary participants in your classroom and highlighting your organization’s commitment to diversity.

4. Consider Those Who Are Underrepresented.

While our classrooms are no longer homogenous, our training content often speaks to them as if they were. Even within a seemingly homogenous audience, there are several types of differences that often go unacknowledged and unaccepted, including different abilities and disabilities, gender identities, sexual orientations, and nationalities. It’s a great relief for the underrepresented diversity in your room to know that they are not just employed by the organization but also acknowledged and nurtured wholeheartedly.

5. Check For Implicit Values and Assumptions.

We often work with default behaviors based on implicit values and assumptions we share with people who are like us. We also often expect others to adhere to those norms. These assumptions and expectations can be upended in a diverse setting. Values we might consider acceptable or even desirable might take others by surprise or alienate them. Expanding the definitions of our own discipline within the context of diversity is invaluable in creating more inclusive classrooms. It also demonstrates that we understand our discipline from more than one or two perspectives and have a broader range of expertise in our chosen area of learning.

Creating a diverse and inclusive organization is a long game with many short-term goals and commitments. These, in turn, carry forward the momentum of a culture where we accept and respect differences. Learning environments are powerful spaces to amplify an organization’s commitment to diversity and being inclusive of their people. Are your classrooms inclusive?

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