Training is often perceived as a one-size-fits-all solution. This may come as a surprise, but assuming all participants need the same training is not an equitable approach. Equitable training requires uncovering participants’ needs and taking them into consideration. In a world where leading companies recognize that celebrating differences is crucial for future success, training that reflects the desires of only the majority will no longer work.
By acknowledging that everyone brings different strengths, weaknesses and experiences to the table, your training programs will not only become more effective but diverse, equitable and inclusive as well. To build equitable training programs, consider these three vital questions:
1. Who Is Invited?
It’s tragic to think that some employees who would like to participate in training programs may not be invited because of their rank, ability or tenure — but this happens all the time. To challenge the status quo on training, focus on inclusion and prioritize inviting participants with different dimensions of diversity like gender, sexual orientation, race and location.
Ensuring a diverse mix of participants offers a myriad of benefits, but first and foremost, it increases the chance of a program’s success. Each person’s unique perspective is a source of great value, so who is invited matters. Diverse perspectives provide deep insights and reveal truths unseen by dominant groups, resulting in new and innovative ideas and a richer experience for all participants.
While we know that a strategy to include diverse participants is the way to go, failing to extend an invitation to traditionally excluded individuals can be harmful. The experience of being excluded can damage an individual’s well-being and reduce their ability to perform, countering the intention of most training programs.
Considering the overall composition of the group is also important. Being the only person from a marginalized group in the room can be challenging. Imagine being the only international employee in a training full of Americans, constantly being asked to speak on behalf of all international employees. This individual might experience significant discomfort sharing their unique perspective with a large, homogeneous group. The worst-case scenario is that they choose not to speak because of this discomfort, and the group misses out on hearing their unique perspective.
Welcoming diverse perspectives while ensuring that the experience is beneficial for everyone, not just the dominant group, requires creating psychological safety. This can be as simple as including more people from marginalized groups so there is no “one and only” in the room. When participants don’t feel safe sharing their perspective, the larger group cannot reap the collective benefit.
2. What Is the Content?
Paying careful attention to the language, examples and imagery used is essential for ensuring that the training feels authentic and relevant. The same program delivered to an audience of senior executives in Mexico likely won’t resonate with a group of individual contributors from Japan, especially if all the examples reference Mexican culture — names, places, cultural nuances, etc. Successful training is in the details.
For instance, the text in a program designed for a global audience with a mixture of native and non-native English speakers should be tailored so that all participants can understand it. This level of detail helps ensure participants feel seen and valued.
Expect to face challenges when creating programs for diverse audiences. If working alone, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to account for the needs of all participants, which is why having a thoughtful, diverse team is critical.
In addition, use the following questions to guide your thinking and ensure that you are being equitable in your approach:
- Do you know your participants and understand their needs?
- Have the participants been included in the design process from the beginning?
- How will you create psychological safety so that learning can happen?
- Is diversity part of your design team?
Assuming you understand your participants can be a dangerous strategy. Authorship is ownership. Excluding participants from the development process can have adverse effects. Your program will inevitably leave out significant elements from the training if you or your team is one step removed from the experience of the people you serve.
3. How Is It Delivered?
The program’s delivery must consider different learning styles and abilities. Differences in vision, hearing, mobility and speech impact how an individual experiences a program and should be considered during a program’s development — not as an afterthought.
For example, an in-person training program involving a significant amount of movement from one location to another presents barriers for people with mobility differences. On the other hand, programs offered in hybrid environments allow people with mobility differences to attend comfortably and gain optimal value from the training.
The quality of facilitation is also mission-critical for delivering equitable training. Skilled facilitators aware of the barriers that interfere with promoting equity can better overcome challenging situations and make the most of them. For example, a skilled facilitator might sense the discomfort of someone in the room — based on their identity group or another factor — and turn the opportunity into a coaching moment or steer the group back into safer territory. Ignoring tension only increases it and negatively impacts the participants’ experience.
Facilitators need not be perfect, but they must have humility, curiosity, courage and the ability to listen and learn. Humility allows facilitators to acknowledge their mistakes — knowing that they may not have all the answers — and adapt by listening to other perspectives. When faced with challenging situations, skilled facilitators lean into uncomfortable moments, are unafraid to ask questions in service of others and listen and act based on the answers they receive. Great facilitators will model the behaviors they want to cultivate within the group, enabling participants to see real change.
Ultimately, training is about meeting people where they are and cultivating the belief that they can change. One-size-fits-all training is dead and gone. The training of the future is diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI). If you want to be on the cutting edge of training, remember the essential questions: who is invited, what is the content and how is it delivered? Doing so will enable your training program to be more equitable and effective, contributing to better business outcomes and a better world.