During the coronavirus pandemic, we have all felt the need to connect with others. Yet even before COVID-19 hit, many learners were repeatedly isolated and deprived of a fulfilling experience because they were not in a safe space to learn and improve through trial and error.

We can change the training model from a one-way stream to a bidirectional process. This shift involves stepping down from the pedestal and having the humility to stand back, give others a voice, listen and welcome different perspectives. We can change from the traditional roles of teacher and student to a partnership where we learn together.

Here are a few suggestions to bolster inclusion and clear a path to welcome all learners.

Before Training

Raise Your Awareness of Unconscious Biases

Recognizing where you stand in your knowledge of microaggressions, cultural appropriation and inclusivity will help you avoid common pitfalls in your design. Relying on heteronormative case studies or stock photos that only feature white men may exclude many members of your audience. Take a step back from your design to ensure you use the correct language and that your content is inclusive from the get-go.

Choose an Accessible Format

Are your learners familiar with the technology you’re using in the training? They all must be able to hear or see the content. Become conscious of accessibility issues your learners might face. For example, it’s worth checking to see if your videoconference provider is compatible with tools such as closed captioning.

Use Inclusive Language and Images in All Training Materials

Ensure that your case studies or examples use inclusive wording and avoids, for example, sexist, homophobic or racist language. (Pro tip: Many universities have drafted inclusive language guides that might be helpful.) Being gender-neutral and avoiding stereotypes can help you avoid microaggressions.

Language fluency can also be a challenge, especially when educational or language backgrounds vary within your target audience. Adapt to your group, and provide materials that will help learners review the content after the training.

When it comes to the pictures you use, “diversity” doesn’t mean representing everyone in your audience. It does mean representing a variety of people to reflect different cultures. More specifically, consider including an equal proportion of men and women of all ages, diverse sexual orientations, people from various cultural backgrounds, and people with disabilities. Be mindful of the interaction in the image: Who is in a position of power? Who is in the back, and who is in the front?

Send an Inclusive Invitation

Write in a gender-neutral manner and state your preferred pronouns in your signature (i.e., she/her, he/him or they/them). This initial contact with your participants sends a message of openness before they even register for your training. If you’re using a registration form with a field for salutations, offer “other” for learners who do not identify as “Mr.,” “Ms.” or “Mrs.”

Choose an Accessible Venue

Is the building and classroom wheelchair-friendly? Are there ramps and a button to open the doors automatically? You may have a learner who is injured, has a physical disability or is otherwise physically limited. Be mindful that sensory overload can be a challenge for some neurodiverse learners; many may appreciate a quiet environment, free of distractions and strong smells.

During Training

Welcome Everyone Individually

It sounds like basic manners, but extra care may make a world of difference to someone who is marginalized. While it can be a challenge in larger groups, welcome everyone warmly. Saying, “I’m happy to meet you! I’m so glad you are joining us today!” and giving a warm smile will make your learners feel good about taking part in your training. If needed, take the time to learn the pronunciation of learners’ names.

Set the Tone

When introducing yourself, casually specify your preferred pronouns: “Welcome to all, I’m Alex, I use the pronouns she/her, and I’ll be your trainer this week.” This introduction can increase the comfort level of others to do so if needed, and it helps prevent misgendering microaggressions.

Nip Exclusive Behavior in the Bud

Statistically speaking, you can expect a few participants who will say or do things that are not inclusive. If any participants act in a way that is discriminatory or not welcoming of others, gently but quickly cut their behavior short: Say, “Let’s leave that out of our training session,” and move forward. Is one participant interrupting another or “mansplaining”? Firmly interrupt, and give the floor back to the initial speaker.

Welcome All Experiences

Welcome the various experiences and viewpoints learners bring to the classroom, and be open to learning, too. Foster inclusive interactions instead of acting as a gatekeeper of knowledge.

Make Every Voice Heard

Keep in mind that someone from a marginalized group may be used to being interrupted or dismissed regularly and, therefore, could be less vocal during your training. Experienced trainers know that there are always some learners who are eager to participate and speak more than others. It’s important to welcome enthusiasm, while moderating floor time to ensure everyone has the opportunity to speak.

Throughout the entire program, do not fall into the trap of tokenism by offering a few symbolic gestures to give the appearance of inclusivity. Inclusivity is cultural, organic and evolving. It does take effort and self-awareness, but it comes with its fair share of rewards. By applying these tips, you can foster a safe space for the people who are at the heart of your endeavors: your learners.