Following yet another high-profile incident of what appeared to be racial profiling, Sephora became next in line to recognize the importance of providing employees with diversity and inclusion training, briefly shutting down operations in an effort to educate and prevent future incidents. Will Sephora’s diversity training initiatives lead to other companies following suit? 

Sephora Diversity Training

Sephora closed its stores for an hour on June 5, to offer diversity and inclusion training to employees, which had been in the works for six months, the company said. Sephora shared its plans to hold the workshops in a Facebook post and video tied to their new campaign: “We Belong to Something Beautiful.” In the post, they said, in part: “These values have always been at the heart of Sephora, and we’re excited to welcome everyone when we reopen.”

In Good (or Bad?) Company

Sephora is not the first well-known brand to close its doors for scheduled diversity and inclusion training after coming under fire for what appeared to be a biased response to minority customers. Last year Starbucks similarly closed its doors for training after news broke of what appeared to be a racially motivated request for two black men to leave a store in Philadelphia. 

Like Sephora, Starbucks shut down store operations but, in their case, for a day and admittedly as a direct response to the incident. On May 29, 2018, they closed more than 8,000 stores to provide employees with mandatory training in an effort to raise awareness and encourage inclusive behaviors.

Diversity Training in the Workplace is Often Ineffective and May Even Backfire

High visibility training efforts raise awareness of companies’ costly efforts to raise employee awareness of unconscious bias and teach inclusive behaviors. Let’s not ignore the potential long term damage to brand reputation and customer trust. But will these training efforts lead to real change?

It’s unlikely. Both research and business leader sentiment suggests that not only is “diversity training” often unsuccessful, but it can even lead to backlash behaviors. Organizations that have been offering harassment training for decades were still targets of the #MeToo movement.

The authors of a 2016 Harvard Business Review article point to their own research and data from more than 800 U.S. firms over three decades which asserts that: “The positive effects of diversity training rarely lasts beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash.” Exactly what companies like Sephora don’t want.

Having Lasting Impact

That being said, we should not ignore the importance of diversity training in the workplace. The key to successful training is to focus on creating a lasting impact. This means training initiatives need to go beyond a one-hour, or even full-day, focus on diversity and inclusion. Lasting impact is predicated on thinking strategically about aligning actions within the company culture—and bringing everyone along in the process. That requires moving beyond training alone and shifting to something more purposefully aimed at engaging employees to create a culture that is inclusive and non-threatening for all.

It remains to be seen if more companies will follow the example of Sephora’s diversity training and proactively give this training to their employees. However, in order to be successful, organizations must recognize training as just one piece of a much larger, ongoing strategy to establish a positive company culture—for employees and customers alike. 

Diversity and Inclusion Training

Diversity and inclusion training for the modern workplace can be challenging. However, when approached from a human and humane perspective, diversity challenges can instead become valuable opportunities for workplace inclusion.