Want to Know the Secret to a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative That Works? Stop Relying on Training to Fix Culture

By Robyn Pollack posted 12-28-2020 11:49 AM



The death of George Floyd has been one of the most powerful catalysts in the diversity, equity, and inclusion world, and opened the floodgates for enterprises and their leaders to focus more intentionally on DE&I work. Enterprise leaders across industries and markets wanted to know what to do, what to say, and how to train people to be more culturally competent, socially just, and less biased. While the hope is that this deliberate focus on DE&I is a turning point for individuals, teams, and enterprises, if as a society we are going to create measurable change the default approach to begin to address the DE&I complexities personified by George Floyd cannot begin and end with training.


A recent Wall Street Journal article, The Unfinished Business of Office Diversity Training, discussed some of the issues with training, citing consultants new to the space who may not have the experience navigating difficult conversations and the unintended backlash training without tools or action can create. The “parachute program”, where a consultant drops in to lead a discussion with nothing more, or a program led internally by a diverse team member almost always results in more harm than good. These one-off sessions without the ability to discuss, dissect, and debate issues and reinforce learning and behaviors over time can, at best, have little impact, and at worst, create cultures of exclusion, siloing and mistrust. Moreover, engaging in training alone can provide a false sense of comfort and security - it appears that an enterprise is acting and doing something, but without a framework, true change will never happen.


Education is unequivocally one of the tools in the toolkit to change behavior. Implemented correctly and framed as part of a comprehensive, integrated strategy, training over time, education can be powerful. But DE&I work and training are not synonymous. DE&I work is much more complex, nuanced, and holistic. It requires true business strategy, time, and intentionality. Consequently, training is rarely, if ever, the place to start if an enterprise is looking for measurable impact.


The place to start the DE&I journey is with assessment. Ask employees about their experience at the enterprise and gather data so current state benchmarks can be created. From there, analyze that data, and develop a strategic roadmap with KPI’s and metrics to take the enterprise from that current state of point A to the future state of point B.  Set short and long-term priorities, and then adopt the implementable actions needed to reach the goals created in the strategy. Here is where training can be part of the solution.


The opportunities are great as together we face a pivot point in the collective business and cultural climate, amplified even more by the opportunities that exist in enterprises to be part of that shift. To create cultures of belonging, psychological safety, and equity, enterprises must have a mechanism to integrate DE&I into everyday values, behavior, and actions. Like any other journey, start at the beginning by identifying where the enterprise is and where it wants to go. Leave the training for later. That is the only way to get to the next level of talent and enterprise performance.