Backed by 20 years of studies, it is indisputable that workforce diversity and inclusion (D&I) have a positive bottom-line impact. Because of the proven benefits, industries that are known to be traditionally male-dominated, such as sports, technology, engineering and construction, must continue to close the gender gap and create more opportunities for minorities.
Despite the efforts and improvements organizations are making, there remains a significant lack of diversity and gender equality. In addition to vocal and visible C-suite-level support, it is critical that organizations implement learning and development (L&D) programs that focus on creating a culture that fosters inclusion at all levels. In construction, where women make up only 10% of the workforce, it is especially important to put diversity initiatives in place.
Understanding the Workforce
Training can take many different forms, and there is no quick-fix solution that will work for every industry. For that reason, before instituting any training, L&D leaders, in partnership with the executive team, must evaluate their workforce and understand the people who make up the organization. Considering that employees come from different backgrounds and experiences, understanding that not everyone will learn the same way is the first step in implementing an effective program. Whether the program is crafted in house or administered by a third party, leaders must understand how learners will receive it across the organization and ensure that it is tailored to meet specific learning needs.
Other important factors to consider are the program requirements and timing of delivery. For example, is the training mandatory or voluntary? The answer to this question does not have to be an all-or-nothing decision, and not all groups of employees may have the same requirements. For instance, basic anti-harassment training may be mandatory for everyone, while only leaders are required to take additional courses that cover how to apply these policies to direct reports. The question of timing has to do with the frequency of training. In order to effect real change, consider implementing continuous learning rather than relying on one-off or annual training sessions to cover any given topic.
An additional consideration in diversity and inclusion training is delivery. With ever-expanding uses for technology, it is no surprise that one increasingly important type of training is training that can be delivered on the go. Particularly for large organizations, where the workforce may be spread across a state, a country or even the globe, providing eLearning that is accessible on mobile devices is an excellent option for expanding training’s reach. Using technology to reach more employees in more ways is also a form of practiced inclusivity.
Another option is partnering with employee resource groups (ERGs) — internal, employee-led collectives developed around shared interests and common goals. For example, groups may focus on supporting military veterans or LGBTQ community members. Employee resource groups also create opportunities for professional development, networking and enhanced employee engagement. One way to leverage these groups to support diversity and inclusion is to engage group leaders as teachers, training them to train others and act as an additional level of continuous education throughout the company.
Whether it’s mobile eLearning led by an ERG head or anything in between, the main goal with any training resource is to offer something with which employees will actively and willingly engage. Effective training serves as a valuable educational resource that employees choose to turn to for information.
An Equal-opportunity Culture
With any learning and development initiative, it is critical that men and women of all backgrounds have equal access to the content and that leaders encourage participation. For example, in construction, there are conferences focused specifically on helping women in the industry network and grow. By encouraging female employees to attend these types of events, leaders demonstrate their support of all employees, ultimately benefiting the organization as a whole.
Finally, the glue that helps bring training into reality is company culture. When working to foster an organization where diversity and inclusion are valued, it’s important to consider the details. For example, signs at construction sites should say, “Men and Women at Work” or “People at Work” rather than the traditional “Men at Work.” Small efforts like this one can have a major impact on helping everyone feel included.
Leaders at the highest levels must buy into the D&I initiative — and participate in it. When the entire workforce sees that the leaders are not only talking the talk but walking the walk, it can inspire and encourage the same behavior and trust in the initiative. When diversity and inclusivity training is accompanied by a culture that reinforces that training, it is more likely to result in behavior change.
As industries continue to create opportunities for women and members of other underrepresented groups to enter and thrive in the workplace, it’s critical to band together to make a larger impact. When industry professionals at every level unify, they can train employees to work toward a more equal and better tomorrow.