When was the last time you saw a push for more diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training in your organization?

It was most likely after an incendiary action by a politician, racially charged incident in the news, offensive comment by an employee, low rating from a pulse survey, negative feedback from an exit interview, or a calendar event like Black History Month or International Women’s Day.

It’s predictable what happens next.

Top management decides your organization’s DEI efforts are insufficient. A mandate is passed down that DEI will be a focus. Initiatives are started. Resources are allocated. Speakers are brought in. Workshops are offered.

Now, fast forward six months.

Is DEI still a priority? Has your culture changed? Is your organization more diverse, equitable or inclusive? Do minority groups feel more cared for, heard and valued?  Probably not. Like most initiatives, the tyranny of the urgent takes over, and leaders get distracted by other priorities. The emphasis on DEI takes a back seat and is eventually forgotten or relegated to a side issue until the next “incident” happens, and the cycle repeats.

The sporadic nature of DEI harms your culture and puts your organization at a disadvantage. DEI is necessary for healthy cultures and to be competitive in today’s marketplace.

A record number of American employees, more than 24 million, left their jobs between April and September of 2021. A MIT Sloan Management Review article highlighted research during this period that looked at the online profiles of 34 million people to identify which employees left their job and, more importantly, the reason they left. Not surprisingly, the No. 1 predictor of an employee leaving their job is a toxic culture. “A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover. Our analysis found that the leading elements contributing to toxic cultures include failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior,” the article reports.

DEI is a leading indicator of healthy workplace cultures. It’s no longer a nice-to-have. Instead, it’s a must-have if organizations want to turn the tide of The Great Resignation, attract high-quality candidates and retain their best talent.

Unfortunately, DEI is still non-existent in many organizations and sporadic in most. However, learning and development (L&D) leaders are in a position to change this.

But where do you even begin? First, it’s essential to recognize who DEI can help.

When you mention DEI, many people cringe. The majority (primarily white males) mistakenly think that DEI isn’t needed because racism and bias don’t exist in their organization, or they see it as a political tool. Ethnic and racial minorities also cringe because they’ve seen the sporadic nature of DEI. It often comes across as not authentic, gaslighting or just another “flavor of the day” leadership priority.

However, DEI isn’t just for your organization’s ethnic and racial minorities. DEI done right will aid the majority of your employees because no one is immune to a toxic culture that creates barriers to work and unhealthy work environments. Beyond ending discrimination for employees based on race and ethnicity, DEI strives to cultivate a culture of empathy humility, and curiosity that will benefit a large number of employees such as:

  • Women.
  • Employees with disabilities.
  • Employees of all physical sizes.
  • Employees of varying gender identities and sexual orientations.
  • Employees whose first language isn’t English.
  • Employees dealing with extraneous personal situations.

As an L&D professional, you have the power to take DEI from sporadic to systematic. This shift will impact your organization’s business outcomes because the business case for DEI is stronger now than ever before. Consider these best practices to get started:

  1. Shift from workshops to microlearning: The traditional model for training and development has been the multi-hour workshop or course. While this still has value, it should not be the primary delivery modality for DEI training in the new hybrid work culture. Instead of mandatory multi-hour workshops and classes, build microlearning experiences that deliver small bursts of DEI content over time to keep it top-of-mind and actionable. Training and spaced repetition in the flow of work is more effective and will result in higher learner retention, adoption, engagement and behavior change.
  2. Include DEI in recruiting and onboarding: A robust onboarding process improves new hire retention by 82%. If DEI is an important priority for your organization, it shouldn’t be something new hires first hear about a few months after starting. Instead, be transparent about its importance upfront to attract and retain candidates.
  1. Seek out diverse instructors: Typically, DEI initiatives emphasize diversity in leadership roles. Are these leaders both the best qualified and representing minority groups? Apply this same lens to the instructors and presenters of your L&D training material.
  2. Retrofit existing L&D content: While there is a place for dedicated DEI training courses and modules, another approach is incorporating DEI into existing training. This approach makes DEI more natural and applicable in a wide variety of work-related topics. For example, Deloitte’s Inclusive Leadership Model is an excellent resource as you consider effective leadership training frameworks that incorporate values consistent with DEI. Try this: Review your training courses and modules. Which ones can you retrofit to include DEI content? Soft skill and leadership training are prime candidates for this. Can you update some of the role-playing scenarios to incorporate a DEI perspective? Do the examples given include minority or disparaged groups in key roles? Also, add this as a consideration to your new course creation checklist.
  1. Listen to employees’ experiences: You don’t need to hire an employee experience (EX) consultant or expert to understand the state of DEI at your organization. You already have many EX experts on the payroll: your people! As an L&D professional, you influence a wide range of employees from all levels of your organization. If you listen to them, you will find ways to measure and improve their experiences, which directly impacts your organization’s business outcomes. Try this: Practice informally listening to the employees in your organization. Listen to their experiences about work and the challenges they face. If HR doesn’t already do this, suggest doing occasional pulse or engagement surveys to understand employees’ experiences at work and measure progress over time. Some DEI-specific questions you can incorporate include:
  • Do you feel accepted, comfortable and safe within your organization?
  • Do the people you work with treat each other with respect?
  • Does the company culture allow employees to be themselves without fear?
  1. Establish a cadence of celebration: Many employees don’t feel they are recognized or appreciated for their efforts at work, which is one of the most impactful drivers of employee engagement. As an L&D leader, help your organization create a regular cadence of celebrating your people. It’s a fact that what gets recognized gets repeated. If DEI is a priority, regularly celebrate the people pursuing your company’s core values and DEI goals.

As a L&D professional, you not only prepare your people for the future of work, but you also are in a position of trust and influence. You can drive strategic priorities that result in tangible business outcomes. DEI isn’t a fad or something your organization can focus on once per year. It’s time to make DEI a priority and devote the same weight, resources and focus over time as you do to increase revenue, maximize profits and cut costs. You have the power to take DEI training from sporadic to systematic.

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