Many organizations prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) but view it primarily as human resources (HR)’s responsibility. This article outlines why DEI needs a mindset change and highlights DEI training strategies to drive that change.

Why Should DEI Be a Business Strategy and Not an HR Program?

Organizations succeed because of sound, collective, integrated business strategies and not because of isolated business plans from independent functional areas, such as procurement or HR or the actions of an individual. However, some aspects of a business transcend individual functional areas because they impact every segment of the business — and DEI is one such component. As such, DEI must be a comprehensive business strategy, not just relegated to HR.

DEI has a direct impact on organization-wide talent supply chains — from making the initial decision of hiring, to offering fair promotion choices, to making inclusive growth opportunities available to all employees. Building systemic diversity and inclusivity in these decision-making processes are what consequentially drives business excellence and performance.

However, due to inherent human biases in the workplace, many of which occur subconsciously, DEI doesn’t just happen automatically. This takes an organization-wide paradigm mindset change and using customized DEI training strategies are key to enabling such change in creating positive workplaces.

Why Is There a Need to Review DEI in Organizations?

Successful organizations thrive through a diverse set of ideas, thoughts and approaches. A physically, culturally, ethnically, racially and temperamentally homogeneous workforce is not likely to represent the diverse environment they operate in. Systemic workplace biases, in hiring, retaining, training and promotion policies, which stymie DEI, become entrenched over time.

This is especially true in hybrid workplaces, where:

  • Decision makers (e., managers, supervisors, leaders) might not always hear, see or communicate with rank-and-file employees.
  • Additionally, because remote team members typically don’t interact (physically) with broader workforce colleagues, their biases are likely to remain ingrained.

In such environments, unspoken biases can erode an organization’s quest toward building equitable and inclusive workforces. It’s only through an objective and impartial review of DEI within the organization, supported by personalized DEI training strategies, that the presence of workplace imbalances might reveal themselves. The path to building an equitable and inclusive workforce often leads to creating a diverse workplace.

What Should Be the Top Outcomes of Your DEI Training Strategies?

Although broad-based inclusion remains the primary goal of any good DEI training program, that goal often results in wide diversity across the workforce. And the success of such programs rests on achieving three fundamental outcomes:

  1. Mindset change: Change doesn’t just happen — it requires a top-down mindset shift to transform an organization’s DEI culture. One of the top outcomes of any training program must, therefore, be paradigm mindset change about DEI, its benefits, and why it’s needed.
  2. Overcoming biases: The strategy must consciously aim to train leaders, managers, and rank-and-file employees how to recognize unconscious workplace biases and arm them with strategies to overcome those prejudices.
  3. Behavior change: There’s extensive evidence () showing that DEI is good for innovation, customer service, employee engagement and long-term growth. However, implementing DEI policies – not just defining them – is how those benefits accrue. And that only transpires through behavioral change, and not just through policy statements. Training must seek to affect that change.

Research shows that without overarching DEI training strategies in place, it’s highly unlikely that organizations can achieve these outcomes.

What DEI Training Strategies Should Organizations Leverage to Change Mindsets, Overcome Biases and Drive Behavior Change?

A set of customized training strategies is the only way to help overcome biases, change mindsets, and drive behavioral change. However, these strategies are ineffective if developed and deployed as independent, stand-alone programs. To be effective, L&D leaders must consider using a structured, proven DEI Learning and Performance Ecosystem approach as shown here to ensure meaningful mindset change occurs across the organization.

As part of this Learning and Performance Ecosystem, DEI leaders, in concert with L&D professionals, have various training strategies in their toolbox for developing custom-built DEI training.

Creating Awareness and Mindset Change

And that mindset change begins with initiating and creating an awareness of the DEI Learning and Performance Ecosystem. Without such an awareness, employees — especially remote workers — won’t know what DEI resources are available to help them deal with their biases. A targeted awareness outreach is therefore key to leveraging the power of your DEI Learning and Performance Ecosystem in driving mindset change.

Adopting Immersive Learning Strategies

    • Scenario-based learning and branching scenarios: These are great strategies to provide employees a safe and immersive way to practice what they’ve learned, without exposing them or the organization to risks associated with mistakes or incorrect implementation of DEI practices and policies.
    • Gamification: A central pillar for a thriving DEI culture is team spirit and inter-employee trust and reliance. Use DEI-themed multi-player games to foster learner engagement and renew their interest in diversity and inclusion.
    • Videos and interactive videos: As an extension to gamification, the use of “Learn by Playing” videos makes training overly sensitive subjects, such as DEI, more engaging. They build inclusivity by fostering team building and cross-functional cooperation.

Reinforcing Learning and Other Job Aids

    • Microlearning: The pace of learning, gaps between learning events, and the sheer volume of DEI-related information delivered may result in employees forgetting some of the lessons learned. Microlearning, the practice of reminding and reiterating prior learning through bite-sized content – such as short videos, podcasts, infographics and PDF documents — is a great tool to battle that Forgetting Curve.
    • Job aids: Most workers require specific and timely support at a time of need – when they’re grappling with a challenge on the job. This is especially true with remote and hybrid workers who don’t have access to the same support systems as their on-premises or in-office counterparts. L&D workers can prepare specific job aids and performance support content to help employees change old habits. These may include practice exercises, branching simulations, and how-to videos that employees may access to review and recall learning related to specific DEI challenges they face at the moment.

Coaching, Feedback and Social Learning

    • Blended learning: Blended learning, through a mix of instructor-led and virtual instructor-led training (ILT/VILT), is highly effective for including a cross-segment of the workforce in DEI training, especially remote and hybrid workers. Instructors can use face-time and live interactions to provide feedback, coach and offer encouragement to participants during in-person check-ins and one-on-one interactions.
    • Social learning: Creating diverse social learning circles to facilitate collaboration with other workers, with diverse backgrounds, helps employees understand the importance of diversity. This strategy is especially effective for remote and hybrid workplaces, where the entire organization — comprising employees with diverse backgrounds — isn’t always co-located. Including subject matter experts (SMEs) and other thought leaders with divergent social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, within those social circles, also furthers the goals of DEI training strategies.

Because of the growing number of hybrid workplaces, it’s important that L&D leaders implement these DEI training strategies as blended learning, instead of delivering them primarily as in-person or 100% self-directed training: A blended approach offers DEI coaches the opportunity to also interact with remote learners and gives them (instructors) the chance to address the subconscious biases within that group of workers.

The DEI Learning and Performance Ecosystem, based on the strategies highlighted here, must be part of an iterative process: L&D leaders must continually evaluate quantitative metrics, visualize the impact of these strategies and iterate the changes to the model based on the assessment of the outcomes accomplished. The DEI Learning and Performance Ecosystem is key to fostering employee engagement. This approach — building awareness, implementing the strategy, assessing the outcomes and revising the model, if required — is critical to shifting mindsets, overcoming biases and driving behavior change across the organization.

Parting Thoughts

Organizations that view DEI as an “HR thing” are bound to fail in their attempts at building a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. Achieving organization-wide equity and inclusiveness requires a mindset change – one often driven by senior leadership and rooted in customized DEI training strategies.

This article has highlighted several customized DEI training strategies that you can use to facilitate broader inclusion in the workplace by changing mindsets across the company.

Want to learn how you can build a growth mindset in your employees and develop a culture of lifelong learning? Download our latest e-book, How L&D Teams Can Lead Learning Culture Transformation and Help Build a Learning Organization.