Businesses have been talking about diversity in the workforce for a few decades now, and maybe longer. But the direction of that conversation has shifted in a subtle and important way.
When diversity first became a hot topic, businesses were discussing why having a diverse workforce was beneficial and how to go about growing one in ways that were fair. Those conversations had a profound impact, and our workplaces are now more diverse than ever. Indeed, they are going to continue to grow more and more diverse with time. Consider:
- The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the 2020 census will classify over half of all children in the country as part of a minority race or ethnic group.
- Generation Z, the newest generation in the workforce, is predicted to constitute 36% of the workforce in this year. This generation looks unlike other generations. For example, only two-thirds of Generation Z identifies as straight, and the generation as a whole has a less binary view of gender, meaning we are likely to see an increase in LGBTQ diversity moving forward.
- By 2060, the United States’ foreign-born population will reach nearly 19%, so a significant part of the future workforce will be first-generation Americans.
Now, the question on the lips of company leaders and human resources (HR) professionals has become, “How do we manage our diverse workplaces?” It takes more than just putting people of different backgrounds into the same room and asking them to work together. As learning and development (L&D) leaders, we know that good management starts with good training. Projects succeed or fail, and career trajectories are set, according to the quality of training that employees receive during onboarding and continue to receive on an ongoing basis.
The training industry has two challenges ahead of us when it comes to diversity. The first has to do with training about diversity, and the second has to do with delivering training to a diverse audience.
Training About Diversity
Not everyone in the workforce is prepared to deal with a more diverse world. (Turn on the news or scroll through social media, and you’ll see what I mean!) As an employer, you can, and should, prepare employees.
Unfortunately, most diversity training revolves around topics like anti-harassment policies — which are necessary, both legally and practically. But that kind of training seeks only to prevent harm from happening. It’s not enough to truly tap into the power of diversity. Everyone in the organization should be taking steps to understand and navigate diversity. Those steps require developing a better understanding of:
The Diversity of Diversity
Most people, when they hear the word “diversity,” think of differences when it comes to race, sex and maybe religion, but there is much more. There’s generational diversity; we now have an unprecedented four different generations together in the workforce. There’s a diversity in personality types — for example, most people are somewhere on the spectrum from extrovert to introvert, and some even go by the label “ambivert.” There is diversity in people’s histories and life experiences, in communication styles, and even in the ways in which they learn and process information.
Training can play an important role in building workplace empathy, helping employees understand their co-workers and their situations. Nurturing empathy often starts with basic training about differences — for example, cultural differences, generational differences and personality differences. But don’t stop there: Look at personal challenges and life events, too. For example, you can offer training on assisting working mothers, supporting colleagues who are dealing with grief or spotting the signs of opioid addiction.
Keeping diverse company might not come naturally for some. We all have some unconscious biases; if we are going to work well together, we must be able to recognize and understand them.
Think of any team in your organization. Are its members motivated by the prospect of tackling a challenge or by avoiding negative consequences? Do they prefer to collaborate, or do they prefer working independently? Are they more afraid of making a mistake or of being ignored?
Obviously, there are no “one size fits all” answers to these questions, but people do tend to fall into behavioral types. When other team members understand these types (perhaps through personality assessments), they can better understand how to communicate and work together.
Delivering Training to a Diverse Audience
Of course, training content is only half the battle. Knowing how to put that information in the hands (and heads) of your diverse workforce is the other half. Consider taking a multi-pronged approach that includes:
Using Representative Content
Employees should be able to see themselves in the training materials you use. The more they can see themselves in the situations you discuss, the more they will connect with the material. So, when developing content (or shopping around for it), be sure that the material is at least as diverse and inclusive as your workforce.
Blended learning uses both instructor-led sessions and self-directed learning, usually through online videos or modules. This approach gives instructors more time for interaction, and even one-on-one help and discussion, which, in turn, helps learners with diverse needs and learning preferences. It also gives learners more time to ask specific questions.
Retention is easier when learners have notes and discussion questions, and some people prefer reading to conversation when it comes to learning. Consider providing these types of student materials both during and after training courses.
As workplaces grow even more diverse, there’s going to be a learning curve for everyone. Those organizations that make learning easier are going to be the next generation of success stories everyone reads about.