During these unprecedented times – from the COVID-19 pandemic to unresolved racial injustice across the country — companies are being prompted to revisit their business, talent, and learning and development (L&D) strategies. While there is ambiguity for the future, L&D professionals are finding ways to pivot and address best practices for creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce.

A Glimpse into Past D&I Initiatives

To understand what is necessary to revolutionize diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, it is important to understand the historical context of D&I. Since the 1960s, diversity education has been used to unite communities, military sectors and higher education institutions to support greater alignment given the signs of those times. In the late 1980s, organizations began to deploy D&I training largely to protect themselves against civil rights lawsuits as a result of workplace discrimination.

While imperative at the time, this outdated approach has plagued the way we think about diversity in the workplace and contributes to the pitfalls of modern D&I. Studies show that this method could potentially make matters worse, because D&I initiatives are often limited to creating levels of awareness that generalize the need for diversity and inclusion rather than accountability for interrupting undesirable behavior. As a result, managers comply with D&I initiatives to avoid employee grievances and employee relations investigations, making it difficult for training professionals to foster meaningful impact.

3 Steps to Evolve Your Company’s D&I Strategy

Let’s examine three recommendations that can help evolve your company’s existing D&I strategy – or help build one from inception:

1. Position Yourself as a Partner

Partnering with senior leaders and building relationships with employees to better understand their experiences and motivations can lead to more effective learning solutions. Having this knowledge presents an opportunity to redefine D&I training at your organization, positioning it as a “heart” matter rather than another organizational initiative.

This may require challenging business leaders to shift from asking the question, “How do we move the needle on D&I?” to, “How do we build authentic relationships that  allow everyone’s voice to be heard, valued and respected, so they can provide their best service and performance in their work?”

2. Establish Levels of Participation for D&I Initiatives

Unfortunately, not everyone sees the value of D&I. Therefore, training professionals need to define D&I engagement levels and behaviors to drive progression toward buy-in and advocacy. By establishing a baseline for learner engagement in D&I initiatives, training professionals can progressively measure how well the D&I strategy is working. A baseline for engagement could be as simple as the following:

  • Actively disengaged: Only willing to comply as a condition of employment.
  • Not engaged: May be willing to engage with mentorship.
  • Actively engaged: Fully supports D&I strategy and initiatives.

3. Tie L&D Outcomes to D&I Strategy

Training professionals must identify learning outcomes to inform their D&I strategy. Learning outcomes should bridge gaps between empathy and apathy in learners. For example, rather than purchasing off-the-shelf bias training, use data collected from stakeholders to personalize training to your culture and simulate a relevant experience for your learners.

By taking these three steps, training managers are well positioned to revolutionize D&I initiatives at their organizations.