Elizabeth Bille

What makes an effective diversity training program? And how do you get your employees and leaders to complete DEI training?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (or DEI) training is critical to building a positive, innovative work environment where employees feel engaged and supported to do their best work. Yet, despite nearly 70 percent of companies stating that investing in DEI has a positive impact on their brand and employee wellbeing, fewer than 35 percent of employers provide DEI or bias training to their workforce.

As job applicants and employees continue to seek evidence from employers that they are prioritizing inclusion and belonging, what are some steps organizations can take to implement DEI training that’s effective in building and supporting diverse teams? Let’s dive in.

The Importance of DEI Training at All Levels

Diversity training, at its fundamental level, helps organizations teach their employees the value of diversity and build a sense of belonging in the workplace.

But to maximize the impact and effectiveness of DEI training for all employees — it’s critical to implement it organization-wide, from individual contributors to supervisors to executives. 

While diversity training can — and often should — be tailored to the unique obligations and perspectives of managers versus non-managers, it’s critical that employees at all levels:

  • Receive training in the skills needed to identify and address the warning signs of bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace
  • Understand their individual role in maintaining a healthy workplace culture where employees feel psychologically safe and able to be their authentic selves
  • Hear strong messages from leaders about their commitment to building an environment where employees are included, valued, and feel like they belong.

The most effective diversity training is provided to all employees both when they’re hired during onboarding and on a regular, ongoing basis. It should be part of a long-term effort to create a diverse, inclusive working environment and continue to attract, retain, and authentically engage a more diverse talent pool.

New Research: Diversity Training Statistics

Data from a 2022 survey by EVERFI, in partnership with Greenhouse, and The HR Research Institute, Mitigating Biases When Building a Diverse Team,” reveals that many companies are prioritizing DEI training for the coming year (34% indicated it’s a top focus area) — yet many aren’t holding leaders accountable, nor are they equipping them with the particular skills needed to lead and support diverse teams, reporting:

  • Only 24% of companies offer DEI or bias-related training specific to managers
  • More than two-thirds of senior leaders fail to participate in anti-bias training
  • 80% of companies don’t evaluate managers/leaders on efforts to support DEI
  • Almost half (49%) report that they don’t have a formal mechanism for reporting bias

Although many leaders may skip DEI training, they are the most important group to train. Teaching leaders how they influence DEI (or not) through everything they do — from hiring to onboarding, coaching, resolving team conflicts, promoting, and more — can have a big impact on business results. In addition to helping those in managerial, executive, and C-suite roles lead more successful, engaged teams in today’s work environment, training also helps them prepare for what’s next. Inclusive leaders are more effective leaders.

Effective DEI training is about more than solving today’s challenges — it’s about becoming more aware of potential issues, so problems don’t arise in the future, or, when they do, having the language and tools to navigate them with sensitivity.

While the aforementioned survey reveals promising progress in employers prioritizing DEI initiatives, there’s clearly room to grow when it comes to providing leader-specific DEI training to company leaders — and holding them accountable for participating.

How Can You Support Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Today’s Workplace?

This guidebook provides discussion resources and exercises to help you promote a culture of respect and inclusion in the modern workplace.

Are Company Mandates Needed for Effective Diversity Training?

The majority of employees hold healthy attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs, and want to take positive steps to build an inclusive, fair, welcoming work culture. However, some employees, including leaders, may be unlikely to engage with DEI training unless they’re required to do so. 

To make DEI training effective, designate training at your organization as mandatory to ensure everyone receives similar education and messages on these critical issues. It also signals to your workforce that DEI is an organization-wide priority. For this reason, it is particularly critical company executives and other leaders are required to attend and complete DEI training.

6 Techniques to Boost Participation in Your DEI Training

So, what are some ways to help your investment in DEI training achieve its desired results? Here are six strategies organizations can use to maximize diversity and inclusion participation and support DEI training that’s effective:

  1. Offer rewards or incentives for timely participation.
  2. Issue reminders and deadlines, generated by an online training system.
  3. Roll out general or one-on-one communications from senior leadership, managers, or department representatives reiterating the importance of the training and sharing one aspect they found particularly valuable (can be repeated by different leaders).
  4. Enlist a company leader (your CEO or division head, for example) to review department training completion reports at leadership meetings and hold leaders accountable for completion by their teams.
  5. Revoke access to one or more company systems for individual non-participation.
  6. Note non-completion of training in performance reviews.

While both “carrots” and “sticks” can be effective, and while some employees may ultimately only respond to the possibility of a negative consequence, it’s recommended that organizations don’t rely solely on punitive actions to motivate employee participation. Positively-framed messages that tie DEI training back to the organization’s values, and indicate leadership’s commitment to training and engaging all employees in creating a psychologically safe, respectful working environment for everyone, can be particularly impactful.

Positioning and Measuring Effectiveness of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Training for Leaders

When communicating with leaders specifically, position employee DEI training as an investment that helps build organizational trust, employee engagement, team performance, and ultimately, productivity. In addition, you can share information about the organizational costs of not doing this work. For example, according to SHRM, racial bias in the workplace cost U.S. businesses $54.1 billion annually in increased absenteeism, $58.7 billion annually in lost productivity, and $171.9 billion in turnover over the last five years.

Whether implementing a wide array of tactics or focusing on one or two, an organization that uses any of these methods is communicating that participation is an organizational priority.

Lastly, keep track of what seems to be working best to drive employee engagement at your workplace, so you can refine your approach over time.

Building a Better Workplace Culture with Diversity Training

We commend any organization’s efforts to provide DEI training for their employees and leaders. But, there’s always room to grow when it comes to building and supporting equitable and inclusive workplaces. The strategies above can help employers deliver impactful, effective DEI training that builds better workplace cultures and brings tangible, positive benefits to its people.

Looking for data, insights, and tools to put your DEI plans into action to build stronger, more diverse teams? Join DEI experts from Greenhouse and EVERFI, as they explore findings from the new research survey, “Mitigating Biases When Building a Diverse Team.” Watch this free, on-demand webinar.