Diversity training is evolving. Dr. Marie Philippe explains how organizations can capitalize on it.

by Marie Y. Philippe, Ph.D.

Corporate Vice President, Culture and Organizational Effectiveness
The Lifetime Healthcare Companies

Regardless of culture, whether it is a culture of innovation, or one focused on accountability, most companies also desire an inclusive environment. Embedded in the culture-management strategy is typically the diversity training staple. This is indeed best practice.

However it is important for us to ask if the training is keeping up with the way in which our employees work, and if it enhances workforce engagement and effectiveness, thus meeting the ever-changing business needs of our young century.

Let’s consider just a couple of points as you re-evaluate your training strategy.

Is your definition of diversity keeping up with the evolutionary social construct?

Twenty-five years ago, diversity training was referring primarily to race and gender. From there grew the basic ‘seven elements of diversity.’ Through the knowledge- and experience-sharing of various practitioners, diversity training grew to a type of national convention of over seventeen dimensions.

The expansion of these dimensions continues to redefine diversity for true inclusion. Consider family composition statistics of the fifties and sixties, when households were mainly comprised of heterosexual couples with children living at home, compared to the 2010 forecast of 60% of households being childless and, of the 40% with children, roughly 10%-12% being led by same-gender couples and over 27% by single parents. Or, consider the evolution of states without any particular ethnic majority, as the demographics of California and New York are expected to reflect by mid-century.

Voluntary vs. Mandatory Training.

The business case for inclusion implies the necessity for every employee to be onboard with the concept of diversity. However, reality has taught practitioners that the imposition of diversity training has not led to the desired embrace, despite the 100% attendance rates. Many companies have adopted, for good reasons, affirmative defense, for example: the stance that all people managers should submit to mandatory training.

True, this is invaluable knowledge for leadership, and a great liability reducer.

The other question to ask should be about effectiveness and goodwill creation. Forced training has taught many how to be more subtle about discriminatory practices and behaviors in the workplace, but has created, in some cases, levels of resentment manifested through increased violence in less controlled social circles.

Voluntary training is more likely to result in long-term, sustainable behavior change. The encouragement for self motivation in Diversity training participation emerges from the employees witnessing their leaders walking the talk of inclusion and leading by example. This modeling by leaders both increases the effectiveness in successful business outcomes and creates the desired culture with new behavioral norms.

Further, in this digital age, training of any sort can be had at any time, anywhere, at anyone’s convenience. This is not an endorsement of electronic diversity training, although various interactive models can be quite effective in teaching the business case, the legal aspects, andworkplace basics. For the real learning to occur, the depth of dialogue on sensitive issues and human interactions is a must, as it creates the optimum balance of understanding at the intellectual and emotional levels.

Of course, you would also want to specially assess the evolution of your audience, paying attention to the needs of your workforce, changing demographics, the impact of social media in your communication strategy, the sophistication of multicultural markets, and the commitment to sustainability in your measures of success.

Through a successful implementation of self motivated diversity training, employees work more collaboratively, seek solutions respectfully from different perspectives, and perform better overall. The company will undoubtedly experience financial gains derived from increased efficiency, while the company’s internal culture and public image will also be enhanced.

Marie Y. Philippe, Ph.D.

Marie Y. Philippe, Ph.D.

Corporate Vice President, Culture and Organizational Effectiveness
The Lifetime Healthcare Companies

Well known for her leadership contribution in corporate culture transformation through strategic diversity initiatives and organizational change management. She can be reached at [email protected]

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