We live in a world that naively attempts to understand its surroundings by dividing things into categories. Sometimes categories can help, like when you’re shopping at the supermarket. But, oftentimes, they hurt. This can be particularly harmful when learning and development (L&D) preemptively or reflexively reacts to current events and crises.
With the human brain containing billions of neurons and bridging trillions of connections, L&D could have a field day finding and defining categories. There are an overwhelming number of important and diverse categories of thinking, behavior and mindsets. Recent studies of the brain have demonstrated that the more categories you activate simultaneously, the more intelligent your solutions are likely to be. The trouble is we’re always leaving some category out, so L&D is better off working with unifying principles than generating quick, band-aid solutions that will likely receive backlash. Below are some ideas to consider when designing learning in the pursuit of an equitable workplace.
What is more fundamental to your workforce priorities?
Inequality is real and must be addressed. But, simply offering “awareness-enhancing learning” is not helpful. Your brain is not a logic-driven machine. Emotions run deep, and at some point, you run the risk of the pendulum swinging back to where it was.
Rather, ask yourself what constitutes a humanized workforce? Common to most people is a desire to love and be loved; that’s what makes us human. When I work with companies, I help them design programs around personalized self-development, purpose, passion and psychological safety. These four P’s will help activate empathy toward others. You don’t want to force fairness. Sharing and kindness in the workplace is inspired by love and humanity.
Offer empowerment and respect
People who experience inequality don’t want pity. Rather, they want to feel and be empowered, loved and respected.
Extensive research demonstrates that reliving experiences with and reciting narratives of victimhood and ostracization can negatively affect mental and psychological well-being. Focusing on inclusion means that you do not victimize employees who experience inequality. Rather, design learning so that all employees can explore their vulnerabilities, differences and strengths and be empowered to share them in a psychologically safe environment. A culture of victimhood is likely to polarize workforces. Rather, think deeply about how you can cultivate a culture of possibility.
Avoid one-size-fits-all implicit bias training
In 2019, Fitzgerald and colleagues demonstrated that not all implicit bias training works. Training that focuses on contradicting stereotypes rather than perpetuating them by focusing on difference achieves more effective outcomes.
Additionally, in 2021, Stone and colleagues demonstrated that certain populations and groups may respond differently to implicit bias training. Psychoanalysts have spent years helping people realize unconscious obstacles and biases. Rather than offering off-the-shelf implicit bias training, consider the agility and unity that is necessary in your organization to enable constant course correction and the creation of safe spaces to fail, learn and forgive.
If L&D truly wants to have an ethos of equity, it must embrace complexity and courage and avoid oversimplified discussions if workforces are to feel authentically and entirely welcomed.