EVERFI Content Team

Following the social unrest that marked most of 2020, organizational leaders were forced to acknowledge the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. This was long overdue, as DEI initiatives are critical to building a strong, innovative workforce where employees feel engaged in and supported to do their best work. And yet, despite high levels of awareness, companies continue to report that they do not feel their DEI efforts are achieving the desired outcomes.

According to Gartner research, only 36% of DEI leaders feel their organizations have been effective in building a diverse workforce. Further, only one-third of employees believe they have the ability to influence inclusion in their workplaces.

What does it take to ensure that your investment in DEI initiatives – and especially your DEI training – achieves desired results? You need to understand what DEI training is on a fundamental level.

Understanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity

These terms are often lumped together so the meaning of each of the terms often gets lost in translation. Understanding the terms individually can help add context to a bigger-picture training program on DEI in the workplace.

  • The definition of diversity is the variety of differences in a group of people that makes both the group and the people in it, unique. Those differences can include traits like race, sex, gender, gender identity, color, ability, cognitive skills, personality traits, age, and sexual orientation, as well as appearance, body size, culture, national origin, education, economic background, and much more.
  • Equity is working toward fair opportunities and outcomes for all by removing barriers resulting from unique disadvantages and challenges. Equity is different from equality, where everyone is treated in the same way. For example, a focus on equality would give every person in a group the same size work uniform to wear; but equity would offer the uniform in different sizes. 
  • Inclusivity is about welcoming everyone and creating environments of mutual respect where all employees are valued and supported.

Once employees understand these terms, they can then learn what they can–and should–do to support them.

How to Ensure Your DEI Training is a Success

Below are five things that you can do to make sure your DEI training is successful.  

1. Align DEI Training Efforts to Strategy

DEI training shouldn’t take place in a vacuum or as the sole initiative to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Gartner notes that companies should focus “on what is relevant to their unique employee base and [promote] employee ownership.” The first step is identifying specific organizational and employee challenges—the next is building a DEI strategy which training will help to support. This can be accomplished by leveraging a consultant with DEI expertise, but don’t ignore internal resources and champions (Employee Resource Groups, Learning and Development professionals, HRIS analysts, and committed business line leaders) as working committees to shape your DEI strategy.

DEI Training Facilitator’s Guide

Exercises to start and moderate productive conversations

2. Organization-Wide Buy-In for DEI Training

Buy-in starts at the top of the organization — from the board level to your front-line team members. Employees will model the behaviors and cultural norms of their organizational leaders. So while it is critically important to have a stated and publicly available commitment to DEI, and written policies to support this statement, it is equally important that leaders are intentional about aligning their actions to organizational values that support the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Practices such as hosting inclusive meetings, promoting inclusive leadership, and being clear about mitigating biases in hiring go a long way to “walking the talk” of DEI.

3. Explain the “What”, “How”,  and “Why” During DEI Training

Once the DEI strategy, supporting objectives, and affiliated tactics are in place, it’s time to consider the right DEI training solution to empower all employees to be a part of inclusive workplace culture.

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The three big questions that should be answered during this training are:

  1. What is diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  2. How do employees support each through their actions?
  3. Why is DEI important to the organization as a whole?

The “what” should explain what exactly DEI is, examples of different aspects of diversity, and what it means to be inclusive and equitable (and, conversely, examples of exclusive or inequitable behavior). This can be done through a focus on practical examples and personal stories that help make DEI feel more relevant to all learners.

The “how” teaches employees about the important role they play in supporting DEI in their day-to-day work. This step equips learners with practical tactics, actions, and language they can use to be more inclusive and equitable. Given that this is about building skills, this is taught through role-playing or realistic scenarios showing interactions between managers and employees, employees and each other, and employees and customers that  illustrate both inclusive and exclusive behaviors and interactions. 

 The “why” can focus on the importance of seeking, listening to, acting upon, and valuing inputs from people with a wide range of identities, experiences, and perspectives— focusing equal parts on the ‘business case’ and the ‘moral imperative’ is a balanced way to outline the why. 

4. Encourage Proactive Bystanders

Every member of the organization has a role to play as an active bystander and to intervene in situations where exclusionary or inequitable behaviors are observed. Making sure that employees understand their role as an active bystander and providing them with information, resources and support can help them determine how to intervene in situations they observe based on their own comfort level with certain types of responses. As behaviors that either support or detract from an inclusive workplace are observed, all employees should feel empowered to speak up.

5. Monitor, Measure, and Share Results of DEI Strategy

Organizations that take steps to quantify what DEI success looks like beyond simply keeping track of how many employees represent a particular demographic group are more successful in progress toward their DEI goals. For instance, monitoring measures such as turnover among underrepresented populations, the extent to which employees report that they feel included through employee climate surveys, number of claims of harassment or discriminatory behaviors, etc., are all ways to quantify inclusiveness. In addition, information about progress against your DEI strategy or goals should be shared with the workforce regularly to keep them informed of how their efforts and DEI trainings are helping to build a supportive and inclusive workplace culture.

Yes, there is room for improvement in terms of ensuring an equitable and inclusive workplace. By following the steps above, employers can help to ensure their investment in DEI training produces real benefits for their workplace culture.