As we release this episode in June 2020, the U.S. — and the world — is in a state of unrest. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked outrage over the systemic racism Black people continue to face in their daily lives and has brought racial injustice to the forefront of conversations among individuals, communities and organizations.

To learn more about what learning and development (L&D) leaders can do to help eliminate racism in the workplace, we spoke with Dr. Theresa Horne, CPTM, and Dr. Russell Robinson, senior training professionals at government agencies, and Valerie Jackson, senior director of global inclusion and diversity at Procore Technologies.

Listen now to learn more on:

  • The challenges Black employees, and other racial minorities, face in today’s business environment.
  • What L&D professionals can do to advance racial equity in the workplace.
  • How to ensure that racial equity is always an organizational priority.

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The transcript for this episode follows:

Sarah Gallo:

Hello, and welcome to The Business of Learning, the learning leader’s podcast, from Training Industry. I’m Sarah Gallo, an associate editor at Training Industry.

Taryn Oesch:

I’m Taryn Oesch, managing editor of digital content at Training Industry. This episode of The Business of Learning is sponsored by Training Industry research.

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Sarah Gallo:

As we record this episode, the Black Lives Matter movement is stronger than ever before, as recent events have exposed the systemic racism that continues to permeate both our individual communities and society at large. Through the power of education, learning leaders have a unique role to play in eliminating racism in the workplace. To learn more about how training can combat racism at work, we’re speaking with Dr. Theresa Horne and Dr. Russell Robinson, senior training professionals for government agencies, and Valerie Jackson, senior director of global inclusion and diversity at Procore Technologies. Theresa, Russell and Valerie, thanks for joining us today on The Business of Learning.

Dr. Theresa Horne:

Thank you.

Valerie Jackson:

Thank you.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

Excited to be here.

Taryn Oesch:

To get started, let’s start by talking about some of the challenges that Black employees and employees from other racial minority groups are currently facing in the workplace. Theresa, why don’t you start us off.

Dr. Theresa Horne:

Sure, sure. First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to this discussion. It’s an important topic, and it’s very timely, as you guys have stated already, with everything going on in our various communities. I think it’s inevitable that what’s happening out in the world is going to bleed into our work lives. When we’re talking about what challenges that we see black employees having, or other minority groups in our offices, I think a lot of that has to do with lack of voice. We’re talking about people who don’t feel like they’re being heard. That’s a lot of what the Black Lives Matter movement is standing for, and a lot of what these social justice campaigns are about. Taking that into consideration, as well as looking at whether there’s a lack of a D&I push at your company. Is there some[one] accountable from leadership that really has the basis of diversity and being inclusive to all employees? Not just a statement or a policy, but actual pushing from the leadership that they want to get this to their employees and make sure that they’re having these valuable conversations? Then, just lastly, I’ll put in there, too, about some of the challenges that I’ve seen is the inauthenticity that we normally can see right now with a lot of companies coming out with these statements saying how they are, now, aware of these things that, I think, have been talked about for many, many years. I think that inauthenticity of it can create perceptions to minorities or even other groups, like veterans or disabled workers, that you really don’t put into leadership roles. It doesn’t come across as authentic. You’re not putting that value into your employees. I think that’s sort of the challenges that I’ve seen in the workplace.

Taryn Oesch:

Thank you. Russell, why don’t you go next? Anything to add there?

Dr. Russell Robinson:

Yes. I’m going to piggyback on what [Theresa] said about voice. I think, when you look at the challenges of Black [people] in the workplace, it really gets to what she said about voice. I will take that a step further and say feelings of being invisible, [of] not being included [and] how that relates to culture, whether that means there is access to promotion and leadership positions throughout the organization [is critical]. Before I got into this [organizational development] space 20 years ago, I was a CPA and I worked for a firm that was based out of Albany, New York. It [had] 300 employees. It was myself and three Black women. We fit. We became our own culture. We became each other’s backbone. We often talked about how we never felt included in any of the social activities. We looked at a company where there were no Blacks at any level besides the rank and file. There was no [Black person on any] level of leadership. The impact of all of this, what I’ll really talk about is, especially because where we are on back-end of COVID[-19], it really has an impact on mental health, and feeling empowered and feeling that you can be confident. The one last piece I would say, based on some of the research I do, is to also understand that Black people and people of color are not a monolith. We all experience things very differently. I think, as we get later into the conversation, I’ll probably return to that point. That’s what I’d have to say.

Taryn Oesch:

Thank you Russell. Great points as well. Valerie, what about you?

Valerie Jackson:

Thank you for inviting me here, because I feel like, listening to Theresa and Russell, I’m hearing my existence spoken into existence. I am plus one-ing everything I’m hearing. Yes, I agree that it’s voice as well as representation. We all want to be heard and seen. In some of our organizations, ethnic minorities and, in particular, Black people, are some of the least represented and often, as a result, some of the least seen, whether it’s seen in your corporate imagery, seen in the executive ranks, seen on your hallway [or] seen in your Zoom rooms. That can take a toll. In addition to representation, in most environments, not all, but in most environments, we lack the representation, we also have a challenge with transparency. Transparency around the processes, the fairness of the processes, [and of] the transparency of the opportunities being awarded. I have to agree, again, with what Russell said around the comfort. I am also Black every day of my life and, for the last few decades, [I] have been working in corporate America. I’m a recovering lawyer, but I used to work at the public accounting regulator. What Russell was saying [about being seen], I was remembering viscerally. Even though I’ve worked in some fantastic companies, many of us don’t feel comfortable or feel that we have the permission to be our authentic selves outside of our homes, maybe even outside of our heads. Having that comfort disappear when you walk into a meeting or you step into a Zoom room and you add the cognitive load of something like a global pandemic, a lot of us are just weighed down in a way that few others, I think, can understand and empathize with as much as we need in this moment.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

If I could jump in for a second to just piggyback on what Valerie said, I think the week George Floyd died, which, I think, was Memorial Day. I’m 51. I have never been through a week like that [at] my job. I’m always on. Actually, at first, I was halfway going to work. All meetings were Zoom, so I’ll turn the video off. Then, I just took the day off. Then, to piggyback on what Valerie said, I’m so exhausted at the end of the week. I was talking to everybody. I was talking to my friends who experienced what I experienced. I was talking to white people and non-Black people of color who were just having this awakening or “awokeness” to this whole experience. I just remember, on Friday, I was talking to a couple of my college friends. It’s like, “I’ve just never been so exhausted and tired at the end of a week.” It can really weigh [you] down.

Dr. Theresa Horne:

Absolutely. I’ll piggyback on that, too. When we look at it in the learning realm, that’s when we start getting all of the pings from executives. “Hey, fix this problem. Let’s hurry up and do a training on this, so that we can say that we check that box, [so] that we’re communicating with our employees about what’s going on in the world.” With us being in these positions as people of color, it makes it very difficult for us to kind of disengage from what our role is and our job is to get things done, but then, still have that emotional appeal that we’re having, anyway. I think what Valerie and Russell are saying that has also kind of resonated with me as well, where I still have to get the job done and I still have to go to these meetings and put the face on and kind of be the spokesperson for what’s happening in the world and what we should do at our company. That’s not particularly fair, but at the end of the day, I feel like it’s necessary and needed. If it’s going to be anyone, it will be me.

Valerie Jackson:

Yes, Theresa. It doesn’t mean that it’s any easier. I happen to be married to my best friend, who continued to remind me through what have been the hardest weeks in [my] professional memory, that, “If they’re not talking to you, Valerie, who do you want them to talk to? If they’re not getting strategy and advice from you, who should they be getting it from? Would you be okay with that? Would you rather they not go to you? Would you rather they make it up?” On one hand, those of us who have elected to walk this path, which we know is challenging and which we know is rewarding, we also have learned recently that, sometimes, the burden for us in this role is heavy in a way that others cannot understand. I don’t even know whether all of us have found the right balance between doing what we need to take care of ourselves. I love that you brought up mental health, Russell. The struggle is real. I don’t know that we’re even doing what we need [to do] for ourselves, balancing that with what we need to do for our people. When I say, “our people,” I mean the people in our workplace, the people on all of our teams at work, then, at home, then, in the broader community. It is a real challenge. I think one of the solutions would be for more varied types of people to engage in this work.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

I think when you bring COVID in, and I always looked at it as you kind of have, it’s not just George Floyd. It’s Ahmaud Arbery. It’s Breonna Taylor. Personally, for me, Amy Cooper in Central Park [who] just hurt me beyond belief [even] more. Then, you think about it from the context of [the fact that] we’re also dealing with COVID-19. I had a friend who said, “Well, COVID is the great equalizer. Anybody could get it.” The data says, “No. Actually, it’s not the great equalizer. It impacts Black people more.” Then, I actually thought about it. COVID-19 actually prepared us for this. From ODL and a training standpoint, when we were talking about COVID-19 and people working at home and barriers being down, we talk about, “How do you maintain your wellness?” A lot of it, for me, was continuing to do what I do. As I talk to my leaders at jobs, [I ask], “Are you still getting your workout [in]? What are you reading? Are you getting your time in for meditation, yoga, whatever, spiritual foundation you had?” From that aspect, COVID-19 actually laid the groundwork to be prepared to be the ODL person, and to add flavor to being the truth teller to the organization. I think a lot of what Valerie talks about is, when you’re the only Black person, you’re everybody’s outlet for the same question. I think, a lot of times, there are days where it’s like I really don’t want to answer that question. If you’ve ever had a sick family member and there are days where it’s like, “I really just need to zone out,” and you’ve got people who care about you, who want to ask you about that family member, but then, part of you is like, “I really don’t want to go there.” I think COVID-19 helped me for my organization, because we had already gotten in the routine of talking to people about maintaining their wellness, both physical and mental.

Valerie Jackson:

[It’s about] recognizing the humanity of our people. Making that okay. Making it okay to be human, to be a human working.

Sarah Gallo:

Definitely, definitely. Those are all important points to be thinking about right now. What steps would you say that learning leaders can actually take to help ease some of these challenges and just create more of a fair and just workplace for all employees? Theresa, do you want to start us off with this one?

Dr. Theresa Horne:

Sure, sure. A lot of what we’ve been talking about now, we’ve kind of given the anecdotes to that. I’ll just add a little bit more to that and say that, really, this is about being heard. You have to have those discussions, and you have to facilitate these sensing sessions, and talk about what’s happening, so that people feel like, “I’m not cutting off life when I walk through the door to work,” because people care about what happens in your life as a human being. I think learning leaders should really start doing facilitated sensing sessions, making sure that the mental health [awareness] is there, making sure that you’re offering up these things so that people feel like they can talk about it and air out some of those things at work. Also, I’d say [it’s important] to really lean on your ERGs [employee resource groups] and your employee advisory committees. This is the time where, if you don’t have ERGs, you need to be pushing and working with, and partnering with your EEO office to make sure that you’re putting in place Employee Resource Groups. Having places where these conversations can happen offline is really important. Also again, going back to the training content side of things, just making sure that it’s interactive and thought provoking and not a check-the-box type of training that a lot of us see with D&I, where you’re talking about what’s the difference between diversity and inclusion, versus what does diversity and inclusion look like at our company? What is our organizational culture? What are our retention numbers? What does our leadership look like? This is when you start making a training [course] that is thought-provoking. Then, you’re starting to get an understanding from your employees on where we are as a company. It’s great to hear about D&I, but at the end of the day, you work at a company every day, so you want to know how you fit into that role and into that mission. I think it’s really important for leaders to take that on. Then, again, just partnering with EEO, partnering with your branch managers to make sure that their needs [are met is key], because they’re going to be different in every department. You’ll have a different make up. For instance, I worked at a company [where] all the support staff that worked in administration were all African American. But then, every other professional area and department was all white. Giving diversity training, certain departments were saying, “We don’t need this. We don’t have a diversity issue, because [in] their everyday work environment, they’re working around people [who] look exactly how they do.” They don’t see it, because they don’t look at the administrative division and say, “Well, why is everyone there African American in the support roles?” I think it’s important to really start reaching out, as a learning leader, to the branch managers, to your EEO team, and really bringing in data to provide conversation at your company. Don’t allow it to be just the check-the-box training of, “Let me tell you what D&I is, and let me tell you what anti-racism looks like.” No, let’s bring it into the 21st century and talk about where we are as a company and how that fits in.

Sarah Gallo:

Definitely. Valerie, do you have anything to add on?

Valerie Jackson:

Great points, all of them. As I think about focusing, specifically, on what learning leaders can do, I would always encourage us to step backward to the beginning and make sure that we’re learning what the challenges are. I loved how Theresa was talking about, let’s focus on what’s true within our company, our organization, our community [or] whatever group or team you are serving as a leader, [and] doing our homework to learn what the true challenges are by educating ourselves about the challenges and the workable solutions, without assuming the universality, thereof. Then, creating safe spaces for those who are experiencing [those] challenges while we are working on rectifying them. I like to advocate for creating safe spaces for learners and challenging spaces for learners. I think, we need both. At different points of the learning journey, perhaps, to encourage different types of integration of different points and experiences. Then, we should always be keeping in mind the diversity of our sources. The sources that we use when we’re building a training, the vendors were using, either to come in and do it for us or to align with us in the journey, and the diversity of the sources that they are using. Of course, always assessing what we do for timeliness [and] relevance [is important]. When it comes to content and delivery, inclusivity [is key]. [It’s] not just [about] what we deliver, [but] how?

Sarah Gallo:

Sure. Russell, do you have anything to add on?

Dr. Russell Robinson:

I think both Theresa and Valerie have hit on some good points, that before you do the stuff, you really have to assess what’s going on and [what’s] not, [and] just be honest. I’m an engagement and voice researcher. Based on my research, my work experience, and my ODL experience, you have to make sure the leaders care. A lot of times, when things don’t happen, truth be told, the leaders really don’t care. You really need to have a conversation with your leadership right now and say, “What type of skin do you have in the game?” If the skin in the game in the leadership is, “We really don’t want to touch this. We want to cut a check,” then, that’s cool. If it’s really, “We want to do something check-the-box,” that’s cool. If they think there is not an issue, then, all of that goes into how you, then, shape the type of training you do. I think part of the challenge is, in a sense, [that] this is different but it’s not different. From a change management and a disruption standpoint, there’s always stuff like that. Thinking about COVID-19, you can go back to the Spanish flu. You can go back to H1N1. You can go back, from a communication standpoint, to the financial crisis in 2008. What we need to do as learning leaders is we need to, one, be creative. Do things outside of the box. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve got, saying, “Hey, we’re looking for people to do unconscious bias training.” I’m like, “Well, actually, you need to do conscious bias training, because that’s where the ball game is.” Then, on the back end of all of this, when you’re talking to the leaders, when you’re asking them what skin they have in the game, then, it gets to intentionality, metrics and accountability. From an engagement standpoint, I kind of saw this in [the] Me Too [movement], but it really didn’t hit me on the “realness.” You can do anti-harassment training. You can do anti-harassment training and the CEO says, “Any complaint of sexual harassment, I need to know about within 24-48 hours. If I don’t, there are going to be ramifications.” Then, you put that into your leaders’ and supervisors’ performance reviews. What I’m saying in regard to learning leaders is, this is just a part [of the solution]. If your leaders don’t care or are not invested, or they’re not going to have the accountability and the metrics on the back end, then you get to what Theresa says, and you really could just have a check-the-box type of training. Then, that gets to how are we aligning to the values of our organization? That’s a totally different conversation.

Dr. Theresa Horne:

I’ll just add on to what Russell said. I know that there will be some learning leaders listening to this and they’ll say, “Well, how do I get my executive staff to support these types of things, to put the money behind it, to put the action behind it?” I’ll just reiterate that it’s really important that you tie the data to your program, or whatever you’re building it on. You have to tie data to that. Going in and telling them, “I feel this way,” or “We did a sensing session” and they said, “It’s not going to put dollars and cents behind your ideas.” I would just leave that note there to say, if you’re really trying to push a program of this magnitude, it’s a big magnitude. This isn’t one of those, “I’m going to do an unconscious bias training, and we’re done” [situations]. If you’re really putting in the work to do this type of training, it’s year-long. It’s not a one-time thing or half-a-year [thing] we’re going to [commit to]. That’s the check-the-box. If you have that, we’re letting you know now that’s the check-the-box. This is a full-blown program that needs to be instituted at every company, whether you call it cultural awareness, whether you call it under D&I and EEO. I know a lot of offices, the EEO offices owns this space. Again, use that data, use the surveys, use the exit and the stay surveys, the employee satisfaction, the hiring and retention data, use all of that as a way to negotiate when you get to that table on what your needs are for the year.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

Theresa, see, I’m going to disagree with you a little bit, because you’ve got to do that assessment. Part of that assessment, from a voice standpoint, whenever we start a voice initiative, I tell whoever the leader is, whoever the change agent is, “Are you prepared to share the data if the data says you are the problem?” You look at Adidas, for example. Maybe a year or so ago, when they signed Beyoncé, they put out this press release about, “For all the talent we pay [to] endorse, they’re so diverse.” They’re about diversity. Then, a week later, the New York Times came out with an article where there’s group of Black employees at Adidas that filed EEOs, and they were working in a toxic culture, and they weren’t getting access to jobs. You really have to prepare your leadership to say, “We may have racial or diversity issues.” You have to make sure [of] whether they’re willing to share the information with that. What I found is, when you start to survey and the data goes left, then they don’t share. That actually makes the situation worse. This situation, if I step up and I think I’m in a safe space, and I say, “You know what? I’ll report to Valerie and I’m being discriminated against for A, B and C,” that actually could put me in a much more vulnerable place. I think, as the conduit, we have to be clear. We need to know how intentional our leadership is about it, and how invested they are in making changes.

Valerie Jackson:

I think you’re both right. I 1,000% agree that we have to be led by data. We have to use data to form our strategies, to form our arguments, and to guide our way forward. I also think that how we collect the data are germane to each organization. Our leaders may not be prepared to hear, see, or release the data, however it is collected. For some of our organizations, and I’ve worked in organizations where an engagement survey was never allowed because of what Russell just said. How do you get employee voice and how do you solicit data through other sources that are already agreed upon? These are some cultural discussions. I think that you’re both right. I think that you both represent the challenges that we face in trying to collect what we need in order to lead the changes that we need to see, while navigating company culture, company priorities, individual business leaders’ priorities, and then, the rest of the world.

Taryn Oesch:

Thank you, all, for that. You’ve talked a little bit about some of the reasons that initiatives don’t work. I want to delve a little bit more into the training itself. We know that there’s some numbers out there and some research out there that says that a lot of anti-bias training, anti-racism training doesn’t work and does end up being what Theresa and Russell talks about, that check-the-box training. Why do you think it ends up being like that? What are the problems with that training that have existed to this point? Russell, do you want to start this off?

Dr. Russell Robinson:

Yeah, sure. For me, at the end of the day, it goes back to what are the values of the organization? Tell me what the values are, and that’s going to drive everything. Part of the challenges with [the] race space training is because it’s viewed as a standalone training aspect, when, in actuality, it needs to be woven into each aspect of an organization. It should be totally a part of the talent management process. How are we incorporating interview questions so that they may identify race and bias? Yes, we incorporate training that isn’t just check-the-box training, but what other stuff are you doing to build the culture? Are you working with your communications, your engagement people, so that they’re doing, maybe, they’re doing employee profiles, maybe you understand what’s going on with the type of cultures you’re bringing Blacks and people of color into? Then, how are we making sure that we’re promoting based on all of these values? Truth be told, I’ve talked to friends who have been asked to facilitate anti-racism discussions within the workplace. The big struggle is, should this be mandatory or not mandatory? There’s pros and cons on both sides of that. Then, it really gets into, also, are the leaders participating and being overt? If we’re rolling out this training, I want my CEO in there in the training, emailing staff [and] letting them know, “Hey, I’m taking this training. I want you to take it.” What I found is, when we do trainings and our CEO is there, the minute the CEO lets everybody know he [or she’s] going to be there, well, then, his [or her] direct reports are going to be in the training. Then, their direct reports are going to be in the training. You have to be overt about it. Then, lastly, it really gets to what role D&I play. Is diversity just a check-the-box [initiative]? Are they immersed in all aspects of the values and the talent management process, the supporting and helping leaders, and also, building a safe culture?

Dr. Theresa Horne:

I completely agree, Russell, with everything you just said about having that full leadership support [and] having the transparency. I think that also goes back to that authenticity. You have to really follow your words with actions. If we have policies, make sure that those policies are enforced. If we have organizational change that are occurring because of the campaign that we’re running, put that information out and be transparent about, “We missed the mark on these things this year, but we’re going to do this to work on it,” or “Where are we at in our goals on this?” A lot of that goes back to leadership being authentic. A lot of times, as a leader, it becomes very difficult for us to kind of guide our executives down the right path on this particular topic. They’ll jump on everything else and give you funding for it. On this particular topic, I think, the fear is that the conversations that will occur will, then, cause production to slow because then, people will be upset with each other [and] then, people will be airing out things that they don’t like about leadership. I think, in a sense, when we look at it from a different standpoint, it’s a fear that they have, and we have to find a way as the learning leader to have that conversation and be persuasive enough to say, “We will look at those fears in a holistic way to make sure that we’re safe as an executive team.” I think that goes back to how you bring the conversation to leadership, to your executive board about it. Then, I’ll also say that you have those issues with accountability, where you don’t get the funding and the support on it, and it’s that annual check-the-box [training course]. Again, it goes back to, what are we doing as leaders to say, “We’re not doing a check-the-box [training]. Here’s my plan for it this year. This is the funding behind it. This is what the impact will be to the agency.” It goes back to that data where you say, “We’re at this point right now. This percentage of engagement because of X, Y, Z. This is where I could have you in a year in X, Y, Z.” I think it starts making it look like, “I’m going to look great as an executive if this campaign actually works.” How we sell it is as important as the content that we’re talking about. I’ll just say to that, again, the full leadership support, we do need that and we need to fight for that, and make sure that they’re being transparent along the lines of how it’s affecting the organizational culture and how it’s looking as far as the standards of enforcement. Like you said earlier, if we have a sexual harassment zero-tolerance policy, then there is no reason we shouldn’t have an anti-racism zero-tolerance policy where, if you are found to be doing anything racist or bigoted, whether that’s on your personal social sites, because we’ve seen many, many people coming out now who are being “cancel culture” where they post things on their social media that are racist or bigoted, and they’re losing their jobs behind it. From another standpoint, I was looking at those happening in the news, and I was saying, “Well, I hope that these people working in at will stay because, if not, they may have a lawsuit.” There has to be a policy to say that, “I can’t do this before you let me go for it in some places.” Again, it goes back to, if there’s a zero tolerance policy behind it, that provides meat, that provides legs to whatever campaign you’re really trying to push behind anti-racism policies.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

Let me ask you a question. I’ve gone back and forth between the zero-tolerance [policy] and not. [What if] I have a bias and it’s unconscious? I’m Black. Let’s say I make an off color joke toward someone of Mexican or Hispanic descent and let’s say, Theresa, you’re my supervisor and you’re like, “Hey, that comment you made, people took offense to it.” If I’m authentic, like, “Oh, my God. I didn’t know that. I meant that was a joke.” I feel sorry about it. I’m remorseful” Is that grounds zero tolerance means I get fired [for that comment]?

Dr. Theresa Horne:

Not necessarily. Not necessarily. Zero-tolerance doesn’t mean fire. It means that you will have repercussions. It’s up to leadership at that point to decide what that policy looks like, and whether a situation like what you just said would be a write-up or something like that, and it goes in your file. I don’t think these things are at the point where it’s okay to ease or fluff over them, because we can assume that a person is very sorry, but as we’ve seen in the news lately, Amy Cooper, she’s sorry after she gets caught. She’s sorry after she loses her job. I don’t think it feels very authentic, her apology. I think it’s more so, “Hey, I don’t want these bad things to happen to me because of what I did.” I think that happens in the workplace all the time. That’s why we have an EEO office, right? I don’t think anyone comes in and says, “You know what? I’m going to harass someone today.” If you are a person that harasses others, there should be a consequence to that in the workplace.

Sarah Gallo:

Thanks, Theresa. I think unconscious bias is definitely an important subject to talk about here. Leading into our next question, we know some learners may not actually recognize their own bias and, therefore, may be resistant or hesitant to racial bias training because they may simply think that they don’t need it. How can racial bias training engage reluctant learners and achieve their buy in? Valerie, do you want to start us off with this one?

Valerie Jackson:

I think that bias training, period, [is critical] because we have biases around all sorts of things. I think bias training has been one of the most celebrated and vilified trainings in this area for so long. Engaging reluctant learners, I think, is a challenge, because when you come to hard stuff, [finding out] what we don’t know can be hard. What we’re afraid of can be hard. Hurting other people can be hard to come to terms with. Hearing something we don’t like or agree with can be hard. Diving into unconscious biases, for some people, could include all of these things. They run screaming from the hills, because they don’t want to know [their own unconscious biases]. They don’t want to feel. That is a human reaction. How we engage people and get them to want to come to the table, despite these fears, I think, has been challenging over time. Making it mandatory has only seen, I think, a modicum of success. I think it’s really hard to mandate that someone learn and internalize something. I think that’s where both Russell and Theresa agree. There is limited utility in forcing people to do something because it can turn into check-the-box [training event]. It possibly may not be effective at all. I personally believe that getting buy in for anything requires that we answer the fundamental principle. Theresa touched on this earlier, the WIIFM, the “What’s in it for me?” principle. Whether we’re teaching something or selling something, either way, we have to address that fundamental question. As someone who delivers unconscious bias training, I always strive to develop and deliver the content in such a way that I am bringing people in, helping them to see and feel how, while you may be uncomfortable, you are supported. Then, gently easing them into both the science and the stories. I think we need both. I love the brain. I think it’s a fascinating organ that gets us into a whole lot of trouble. Elucidating people how the brain works, in some cases, relieving people of the self-flagellation that they engage in when they realize that, “Oh, my gosh. My brain is making me an awful person.” Let’s back up. Your brain does a whole lot of things without you knowing. It’s working while you’re sleeping, too. It’s more about, once you’ve learned what’s going on underneath, what are you doing about it? What are you doing about it? How are you growing? How are you seeking to mitigate the bias? How are you trying to expose yourself to new people, to new stories? The stories can help embed the learning in a way that someone may not have been incentivized to accept if you’re just sitting, listening to all the statistics or the reasons. When we hit people with stories that come from people who we care about or whom we relate to, people to whom we relate, you know what I mean? We hear differently. Our brain fires differently. Sometimes, those learnings are the most impactful. We might spark a revelation in a training. In many cases, I’ve seen that revelation become embedded after the training, outside of the training, in a conversation, listening to a story. I think it’s a multifaceted approach.

Sarah Gallo:

Russell, anything to add?

Dr. Russell Robinson:

I think I am going to vehemently and excitedly agree with everything you said.

Dr. Theresa Horne:

Me, too.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

I think, based on the trainings I’ve seen, we don’t capture the stories. I go back to this holistic aspect of talent management. This should all be piggybacking off the trust and team building type of training, the emotional intelligence training. What you’re really trying to do is really bring that humanity in where people can have those type[s] of conversations. For example, a couple of weeks ago, my dissertation chair was called to check in on me. She is a white woman, a Quaker who is now a Buddhist and a critical race theorist. Awesome. She was talking about a Black student and just told me, “He’s just so articulate.” I’d stopped and I said, “That’s a micro-aggression. When you tell a Black person [that] they are articulate, [it’s] kind of taken as a backhanded compliment.” I know she didn’t mean it like that, but I know we built trust with each other and we had that humanity where we can share those type[s] of stories. I agree with everything Valerie said, but I really agree with the part where [we have trust that] training is really just a springboard [to having] the different conversations. I think, part of what organizations have to do, is they have to bring a lot of stories into the training, but there also has to be data. I also think the training cannot be a standalone [event]. The cool thing is, with where we are in the world with microlearning, with podcasts, and little bite-sized trainings, there are ways for organizations to really make it part of the culture and part of these beliefs and assumptions, making a part of its artifacts. Whether you have little videos you send out, little snippets to staff, do you put testimonials from employees and you put them up on the wall so that people can see it and be reminded of it? I’m just really piggybacking on [Valerie’s ideas], just the aspect of [storytelling in] training. I think training has to change to capture more stories and also incorporate data. What I’ve seen a lot of times [is] it’s a lot of data and not a lot of stories, or [it’s only people who] sit down and tell their stories. Then, there’s no data to back it up or substantiate [those stories].

Dr. Theresa Horne:

I totally agree. I’ve worked in a lot of different places. You see at different stages where different leaders have taken their companies. You have the really engaged leader who is on top of it. If they see an issue, they’re like, “Nope, let’s jump on it really early,” or you have those other ones who have long-standing issues that they keep sweeping under the rug, because they don’t want to look as though there’s anything wrong with their company or under their leadership. I think, for us, it’s really important to know your culture. We talked about that earlier. I know Russell touched on that a lot when he was talking about bringing the leaders in and making sure that they are bought into the process. They’re going to the trainings. They’re giving their stories. A lot of the employees at a company look up to those leaders. It doesn’t matter the race. It matters a lot of times just the grit and the effort that a person takes to get to a certain level. If they see you there and you’re sharing your story, I think that humanizes leaders, and it also brings about camaraderie with the collective. For us, I would say to make sure, again, that leaders are there and bought into whatever training that you’re giving, that they are there sharing their stories, not just there to listen to [their] employees’ stories. I think at the end of the day, we forget that leaders are people, too, that they were once in those same seats that [their employees] are sitting in. Bringing that in and tying that in, I think, will bring a whole new element to engaging learners that are reluctant and for achieving their buy in early on. On the flip side of that coin, if you have that leader [who] sweeps things under the rug, for us, as learning leaders, it can be very difficult to find a way for them to have interest in it. It goes back to what Valerie was saying, where, “What’s in it for me?” You have to be ready to make that statement to your employees, especially, if you’re doing a mandatory training, because once that mandatory title gets on there, people are already defensive. “You’re trying to force me to learn something. You’re trying to tell me that I’m bad. You’re trying to tell me I don’t know my job.” At the end of the day, it’s how we go about doing things and the content of what we’re giving to our learners. Again, the stories, the what’s in it for me, the bringing the leaders in, as well as, with those that have lost long standing issues that are swept under the rug, you may find a mess that’s way too big for training to clean up alone. It may not be [up to] you to champion that. It may be EEO. It may be HR. It may be another area. Really taking a look at your specific culture and seeing how that aligns with your program will really, really help you in engaging your learners more.

Valerie Jackson:

100% percent. You know what? As both of you were speaking, I was reminded that, when it comes to unconscious bias trainings, in particular, I think that we have to set the expectation before and during [the training] that this is not a common “learn about it and fix it, voila, you’re done” kind of thing. You’re not coming to learn about how to operate a software program. You can’t come in to get the outline, get the toolkit, and you’re done. Unconscious bias training, even if you deliver multiple iterations over a learning journey, it is still a tool designed to create awareness and to [help someone begin] or push them further along on their learning and evolution journey. We are not, through a training, going to erase the unconscious associations that exist in someone’s brain, nor are we going to change through a training the conscious associations people make in their networks. Training can’t fix everything.

Taryn Oesch:

Absolutely. Thank you for that. We know that racism is very popular topic in the media right now. Everyone is thinking about it [and] talking about it. We also know that it’s not new, and that many people have to think about it all the time. How can we make sure that our organizations are keeping inclusion, keeping equity, top of mind, regardless of what’s happening in the new cycle [or] what’s going on in current events.

Dr. Theresa Horne:

It’s really about building it into the strategic plan. It has to have its talents into the strategic plan. Period. Whether that’s in your onboarding, your leaders’ promotions, your conferences that you’re running, it has to be in everything. Hopefully, if your leadership finds that it is important, [it will be put into] performance plans. It’s put into policies, like what we’ve been talking about. We’re kind of giving you all the nuts and bolts to really make this a huge program at any company over the length of this discussion. I just would say, again, to make sure that it’s built in to the plan. That’s your job as a learning leader, is to make sure that it is a part of the plan and it doesn’t get swept under the rug, using those tools that we provided to you in this discussion about how to sell it to leadership and what components need to be a part of it, and what you need to look out for. I think that creates an all year round effect when it’s a part of everything. It’s a part of your strategic plan. It’s a part of our thought processes every day. It won’t fall to the wayside and it won’t become a check-the-box [training event]. Then, again, I’ll just reiterate something that I said earlier, [which] is to collaborate. Partner and collaborate. You do not have to be the superhero of diversity. This is not what we’re asking you to do. When you partner and collaborate with EEO and HR, and your executive staff, whether you have an executive council that, maybe, looks at different things, I’m not sure if every company has that, but, if there is an executive council, you need to be talking to them. You need to have a seat there, so that you’re able to say, “This needs to be a part of the conversation.” That partnering and collaborating [plays a huge role in] keeping it [top of mind] all year round because, once your talents are in multiple departments, your talents are in the strategic plan [and] your talents are in the content, you’re not going to have a problem after that.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

Well, as a precursor to the strategic plan, I go back to, again, it goes back to the values of the organization. If you look at the values for most organizations, they use the same stuff. Integrity, excellence, creativity, respect, safety. All of those have some form of line to having a workforce that is diverse, feels included, that’s equitable, and feels like it has belonging. I think we went through a period where people were being inquisitive or people were angry. Now, it really gets to what those next steps are. I think this, really, is an opportunity for a whole new aspect of thinking. It really gets into talent management, like what is your talent management philosophy? Do you have strong, inspiring leaders? Are your workers in an open and safe culture? When you look at training, which, I agree with Theresa, it’s just one part [of the solution], but from a bigger standpoint of addressing racism, or [promoting] anti-racism, they’re going to play a part in all three of those lanes. It will become year round. But then, what organizations have to understand is, then, that plays a role in the type of branding you have as an organization. How that impacts the type of customers you have, or what type of employees you have. Then, when you talk about those impacts, because at the end of the day, it may be that’s what impacts the bottom line. When Theresa talked about Amy Cooper, part of her being fired was because the organization didn’t want their brand to be negatively impacted. I think when you look at it from that aspect and make it totally year round by focusing on talent management, developing strong aspiring leaders, it’s part of your hiring, training, promoting, and development process, and creating an open and safe culture, you have the ability to make change, but there, also, has to be accountability. There has to be metrics. That may mean the role of D&I may have to change. Maybe, D&I is now seen as you also have to be the pipeline for identifying people. Or maybe, those metrics need to change. The last thing I’ll say is, and I said this also about COVID-19, I don’t know what your New Year’s Eve resolutions were, but 2020 has turned into the year of resilience, in an aspect. It also means, if you’re in training, if you’re in D&I, if you’re in HR, this is the year where you prove yourself. If you’re an expert at what you do, then, this is the opportunity for you to step up and determine whether HR is the conscience of the organization, or a tool of management. Are you out to increase engagement scores or improve [the] employee experience? Are you out [there] to hire diverse numbers? Do you want those employees to feel like they are part of the family and you’re hiring somebody and have an opportunity to say, “You know what? I can make it to the C-suite. I can make it on the board of directors,” or, [in] federal government, “I can make it to the SCS ranks.” This is really the moment of truth for HR.

Valerie Jackson:

Wow, so much good stuff. This conversation has been a gift to me in so many ways. In my career, the last, what, 13 or so years, I focused exclusively on inclusion and diversity. Then, before that, I was practicing law. It’s been a minute that I’ve been living in L&D. It means something different everywhere. I think that similar situation applies to folks who do learning. The people who deliver learning are [looked at and] respected differently in every organization. If we are talking about those of us who are delivering learning, it may be because it’s in our title, or maybe because it’s in our hearts, or maybe, because we got a voice that we use, however we are delivering learning for our organizations. I agree with what both of my peers have said. You have to align with the company or [the] organization’s values. It has to be woven into strategy. Because of my bias, as someone who focuses on inclusion and diversity, my bias is toward leaving what I do into everything everyone does. I think that’s how we should approach the important concepts we need our people to learn, because we’re not asking them just to sit and listen. We’re asking them to learn. We know that majority of learning takes place by doing. It’s not just about crafting our trainings. It’s also about creating environments where people can do and be. For those of us who have it in our title, or those of us who don’t, we can all be learning leaders. We can all be cultural champions. For those of us who are in that effort, I hope you’re taking care of yourselves right now, because this year has been a year. It’s only half over. We’ve got work to do. Also, know that you’re not alone. We are not alone. If we look beyond the title and focus primarily on the people who are working to bring a better understanding to the people in our organizations, whatever those titles are, a better understanding, a better experience, a better way forward, we’re all in this together. Maybe, that way, collectively, we can inspire and ignite change within our organizations and outside of them.

Sarah Gallo:

Thank you so much, Valerie, for that. I definitely agree. This is a time where we all need to be taking action and really putting learning into action so that we can make a change. Like we mentioned before, I really think that learning leaders are specifically able to help make that change. We all need to be doing our role right now. That wraps up this episode of The Business of Learning. Thank you, all, for contributing to what we hope will become an ongoing conversation within all companies.

Dr. Theresa Horne:

Thank you so much.

Valerie Jackson:

Thank you.

Dr. Russell Robinson:

Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity and the conversation, great conversation.

Taryn Oesch:

Yes. Thanks for joining us today. For more information on how training can advance racial equity in workplace, we’ve recently launched a resources page on trainingindustry.com. We’re continually adding to it. We’ll link to that in the show notes, as well as some other resources that you might find interesting and helpful.

Sarah Gallo:

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review us, to help other learning leaders find us.

Taryn Oesch:

Thanks for listening.

Announcer:

If you have feedback about this episode, or would like to suggest a topic for our future program, email us at info@trainingindustry.com, or use the Contact Us page at trainingindustry.com. Thanks for listening to the Training Industry podcast.

 

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