Ready or not, we’ve made the shift to a predominantly virtual workplace. While many companies were torn between the digital divide, the COVID-19 pandemic forced these organizations to oblige the inevitable transition. As such, learning and development (L&D) professionals are required to reevaluate how we deliver training solutions for diverse virtual audiences.

Virtual learning and communication add complexity to an already complicated topic like diversity. Classic variables – such as race, religion, age, gender and sexuality – are just a few considerations to account for when creating training programs. L&D practitioners must design content that supports preferred learning styles, overcomes linguistic barriers, neutralizes political perspectives and simplifies technical competencies for audiences ranging from baby boomers to Gen Zers. In all cases, it is imperative that we foster an inclusive virtual environment.

Simple Gestures to Leverage Diversity and Inclusion in Virtual Training

Here are three considerations to leverage diversity and inclusion (D&I) in virtual training:

1. Create Culturally Sensitive Content

Although best practices may suggest we “know our audience,” we are not always privy to knowing their personal lives. At best, we have access to their title, department, career level and – sometimes – their gender. Therefore, we must be careful to review content for any language, images or activities that could be interpreted as offensive or exclusive.

To gain further knowledge of your audience, create prework that allows learners to share personal experiences. For example, if you are training leaders on how to provide feedback, you might include a prework assignment that requires participants to describe a time when they had critical information to share with their boss but was disregarded. Their qualitative responses may provide greater insights on their character, personality and learning style.

2. Break the Ice

Even in virtual training, ice breakers set the tone for learning experiences. Ice breaking activities should align with prework assignments, virtual classroom activities and post-training reinforcement. They should also speak to learning outcomes while giving learners a sneak peak of what to expect from the program.

Use ice breakers that enable learners to develop working relationships from the beginning. The learning experience should be designed so these relationships extend beyond the training event. The ultimate goal is to encourage vulnerability, so learners can share their experiences with others to explore diversity and embrace inclusivity.

3. Even the Playing Field for Learner Engagement 

Along the road to increasing diversity and inclusion is the discovery of shared, personal challenges that people experience. For example, terms like “bropropriating” — taking a woman’s idea and claiming credit for it – have gained popularity as women have become more vocal about their experiences with biases. L&D professionals responsible for facilitating courses or designing train-the-trainer content should include best practices for ensuring participants have equal opportunities to contribute to the discussion. Inserting housekeeping rules of engagement at the beginning of a virtual event helps establish expectations for equity and inclusion.

Both virtual training and D&I will remain top of mind for most organizations for a while. Our job is to leverage both to create harmonious and productive work environments where people can deliver their best.