Oprah Winfrey often talks about what she refers to as “teachable moments” – moments when something bad occurs and you can turn that bad situation into something positive. Basically, the lesson in the message. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is one of those teachable moments. As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we have probably had an experience one time or another that is similar to the below scenario.

A colleague designed a virtual course that marked all the boxes: length was great, it was engaging, interactive and it was informative. Perhaps you even learned a thing or two. The one thing it was missing was a diverse set of characters and experiences. No one looked like you, behaved like you or like many of your peers. The main character was a white male. No women, no people of color, no differently abled individuals, or underprivileged persons. Not only was he a white male, you guessed it, he was also the leader. Now, there is nothing wrong with this per se, however, once the training was concluded, you felt slightly disconnected from what you experienced. You felt as if your experiences were not taken into consideration. You discuss this with your colleague. They nod in agreement, but you are not sure they fully understand your concerns.

Incorporating diversity and inclusion is perhaps one of the most important roles of an L&D professional. The learning experience is varied and should be represented as such in training programs. We so often focus on developing programs that offer a consistent message, language, look and feel that we often forget the most important aspect of all design: the people.

What Is Diversity & Inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion has different meanings to different people, but let’s all work with this definition for the purposes of this discussion. Bersin defines diversity and inclusion as “the variety of people and ideas within a company, and the creation of an environment in which people feel involved, respected, valued, connected and able to bring their “authentic” selves (e.g., their ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives) to the team and to the business.”

Note that Bersin’s definition did not mention race or gender. This is vitally important as often that is exactly what people tend to think of regarding diversity and inclusion. Organizations want to make sure they can mark the checkbox. Woman? Check. Asian? Check. LGBTQ? Check. However, it is so much more. Diversity and inclusion, especially in the L&D space, is about ensuring that there are “checks and balances” in what we do.

It is imperative that L&D practitioners consider multiple factors when preparing for a course. For example, when creating a course, ensure that you truly keep your audience in mind. Consider factors such as course content, any activities that may be a part of the course as well as awareness of their background and skills. Taking time to consider these items will help to ensure that an inclusive environment has been created and your audience will be better able to focus on the material as well as provide value to the organization. Just as there are multiple branches of government to ensure the balance of democracy, there needs to be for the sake of organizational stability “checks and balances” to the designing of learning programs. Learning has never been a one-size-fits-all affair and the incorporation of diversity and inclusion is no exception.

L&D professionals should ensure that diversity and inclusion is reflected in our learning programs. As such, diversity and inclusion needs to be a part of all learning activities as it is an essential part of any workplace and critical to fostering a diverse and inclusive organizational life. How, where and when it occurs is dependent on identifying both formal and informal solutions for planning, access, execution, reinforcement, as well as measurement. Fresh perspectives are needed for all aspects of learning, including just-in-time solutions, creative and innovative delivery models, and unique modes of assessment.

Now that we have some idea of what it looks like, let’s think about what diversity and inclusion feels like. Successful programs implemented by L&D should introduce and encourage new ideas, increase participants’ awareness, and offer valuable skills and suggestions to develop and enrich an employee’s implicit biases. It should also provide an inclusive space and opportunity to engage with these issues and grapple with their complexities. It should feel open and welcoming, a place equally as dedicated to exploration and support as it is to L&D.

Incorporating D&I Into Training

So how does a modern learning leader ensure that diversity and inclusion is not an afterthought in the work we do? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Develop a strategy. Work with your organization to commit to creating an inclusion strategy. This will help to elevate L&D’s seat at the table as this shows a willingness to partner and consult. This provides the perfect opportunity for learning leaders to help guide the strategy and direction of the organization. This partnership also helps to ensure that diversity and inclusion are tied to learning objectives as well as the financials for your organization.

Review your onboarding experience. The usual onboarding focuses on corporate culture and values. How do you highlight that to new employees? Consider ways to include diversity and inclusion thinking regarding how onboarding is presented.

  • Can all employees regardless of socioeconomic status access the information? This is especially important for virtual onboarding experiences.
  • Visually, do the images capture the true makeup of your organization?
  • Host an employee panel where diverse populations can speak to how they learned to navigate the company culture.

Create well-rounded leadership development programs. Developing leaders is a high priority for organizations, as many studies have shown. This is an area where most L&D teams excel. When creating these programs perhaps use a different lens, not just based on race and gender, but focus on other areas of acquired diversity. Keep in mind, for example, educational background, social status and socioeconomic status, amongst other things. This will help to ensure a well-rounded program that will cater to all participants.

Look for ways to address diversity and inclusion. Include diversity and inclusion as part of employee engagement and organizational health surveys. This is where partnering with the executive team and other departments can really benefit L&D.

Track the talent pipeline. Assess the success of your leadership development programs by tracking the diversity of the talent pipeline over time. Note a specific increase in the number of minorities promoted for example.

Review turnover numbers. Work with your talent acquisition teams and review turnover numbers. Are there particular groups of employees who are leaving the organization? If the answer is yes, then review your programs and make appropriate changes.

Outcomes

Now let’s take one last look at our colleague’s course from the beginning of the article with updates that incorporate diversity and inclusion. The length was great, it was engaging, it was interactive and it was informative. You learned even more this time. You congratulate your colleague on a job well done. Then you stop. You reflect on this new course and realize that although this course was the same, it looked different, it felt different. You then realize why. The course was offered in different modalities, online and with an instructor-led training component. It had multiple generations of people represented, the leader was a Muslim woman who partnered with the white male in the original version, and they were peers. Wait … did you recall seeing your company’s diversity and inclusion mission statement in the background of one of the scenes? This course ultimately becomes the showcase for how to implement a diversity and inclusion program into L&D at your organization.

The results are impressive. Your organization sees an increase in morale, in open dialogue and the financials begin to improve. Diversity and inclusion has gone from a teachable moment to a moment where the true business value is realized and lives are positively impacted. Your seat at the table has been established as you saw a problem, proposed a solution and ultimately tied learning objectives to the overall business strategy, which in turn, positively impacted the bottom line. As L&D professionals, isn’t that truly the goal? As we continue to focus on developing new programs, new initiatives, do not forget the most important part: the people.

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