Trainers have an enormous role to play in shifting employees’ mindset and are central to helping employees move from fear and resistance to adaptation. When it comes to supporting gender inclusivity, trainers play a particularly important role. One significant support structure is an inclusion institute, where trainers can create a space and provide the tools to help employees evolve naturally and authentically toward a dignity mindset — a belief that all people have the same value and worth (though respect must be earned) and the same fundamental human needs.

Diversity training is, of course, most successful when it occurs in a supportive, blame-free environment where everyone can explore the biases that, research tells us, we all posses in one form or another. The inclusion institute provides such an environment and also supports a broadening of outlooks — a journey to examine key beliefs and to adopt to ever-evolving work cultures.

When employees move toward replacing a gender-biased mindset with a dignity mindset, behavior begins to change organically. As it does, organizations not only improve gender equity, but they also become more successful. According to Harvard researchers, when gender diversity is accepted as a norm, companies are more productive (as measured by market value and revenue). Training has a central role in driving this operating improvement.

An inclusion institute is an innovative way to provide employees at all levels with opportunities not just to learn new skills but to replace biases with an empathetic dignity mindset. It is part brick and mortar — a real place within your facilities — and part virtual. It offers a wide range of resources, including experiences, classes, events, reading materials, workshops and discussion groups. It provides support as well as training, meeting people where they are and providing them with understanding and knowledge that helps them explore and challenge their own thinking.

A successful inclusion institute may also offer include of the following elements:

A Human Library

One of the best ways for people to develop empathy and challenge stereotypes is to have honest, real conversations with individuals who frequently experience bias and a lack of empathy. That’s the thinking behind The Human Library, an international movement launched in Copenhagen, Denmark. The goal of The Human Library is to break down bias and build empathy by facilitating conversations among people who ordinarily might not have a reason to engage with each other.

Seeing, talking with, listening to and being present with individuals whose life stories are entirely different than theirs can dramatically expand employees’ understanding of how they experience the world. Connecting through the heart is a powerful way to appreciate another person’s challenges, strengths and humanity and to create a space where empathy can grow.

To create a human library in your organization, invite individuals from the community and the company to share their stories with small groups of employees. If your organization has overseas offices, take advantage of employee visits to headquarters to promote cross-cultural relationships. These in-person events can occur on a regular basis (ideally monthly or quarterly). You can offer them virtually or through video, but face-to-face interactions are more effective.

Using Virtual Reality to Establish or Restore Empathy

It’s often said that virtual reality (VR) is the ultimate empathy tool, and many learning and development (L&D) companies are starting to offer it for empathy-building applications. Virtual identity tourism, for example, is a method that provides a first-person, active experience “being” someone else — for example, a woman who needs to speak up in a meeting but finds it difficult or a person who is purposefully excluded from meetings or critical outside-of-work events. Once individuals experience the impact of gender-biased behavior, they can learn how to substitute more constructive and inclusive behaviors.

Debate Clubs for Women

An inclusion institute has many audiences, of course — including women. In the U.S., our culture can have a negative impact on women’s confidence, so building confidence is a foundational goal in nearly all inclusion institute programming for women. A year-long debate club for women is an exciting way to help develop confidence and executive presence in female employees.

Learning to debate builds many skills, including critical thinking, communication, creativity and public speaking, that can build confidence. For the greatest impact, your women’s debate club should be spearheaded by your inclusion institute and led by a professional with extensive debate experience in person at each of your organization’s locations.

Training for Inclusion

The suggestions included here are just a few examples of the ways you can populate an inclusion institute with effective programming. As with all laboratories of learning, the inclusion institute should be an adaptive and dynamic force for personal and professional growth, continuously evolving to nurture the development and growth of your employees’ dignity mindset.

Although accountability plays an important part in inclusion, the most effective approaches are supportive and nonjudgmental rather than punitive. An inclusion institute’s goal is not to point fingers but to shine a light of empathy and understanding on bias and give employees a safe space to examine and grow their thinking about gender and inclusion.