Cultural competence, authentic storytelling and vulnerability should be incorporated into trainings, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.
Good afternoon! In today’s edition, we asked the experts about the best ways to improve diversity, equity and inclusion trainings and the parts of them that they'd like to see become a bigger focus. Questions or comments? Send us a note at email@example.com
Chief diversity and inclusion officer at Anaplan
DE&I trainings don’t always address cultural competence, and they should. Cultural competence — or CQ — means having the cultural awareness, knowledge and curiosity to understand different perspectives and learn how to effectively manage and collaborate across differences. Similar to “EQ” — or emotional intelligence — CQ is a critical skill in any environment. Whether it’s working with a diverse team or selling to customers in a new market, an employee who is strong technically but can’t perform in a multicultural setting will do more harm than good.
It’s not enough to just hire a diverse workforce — your people need to feel they belong. CQ bridges the gap between attracting more diverse talent and ensuring your culture is inclusive so that everyone can succeed. Companies spend a lot on partnerships to bring in diverse talent. Equipping your entire workforce with CQ training and tools protects that investment.
As DE&I evolves, leaders need to think more holistically about how to create connections in the workplace so people can be productive and innovative. Incorporating CQ into your training curriculum is an acknowledgment of that. It grounds teams to have a shared language and a shared understanding to change behavior and support a more inclusive culture.
A CQ component can add another dimension to unconscious bias training and reminds us that DE&I is intersectional. Many people think DE&I is about race, but it’s about so much more. This is about understanding your workforce so that everyone can succeed.
Chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Sonos
DEI trainings alone aren’t enough to change inequitable outcomes or feelings of exclusion that can exist in the workplace. They are only as impactful as the systems that complement and reinforce the content. However, when coupled with equitable practices and a meaningful commitment to inclusivity, DEI trainings can be contributors to sparking change, increasing awareness and inspiring action. To accomplish this, there are a few areas where DEI trainings can be even more impactful.
First, the best DEI trainings provide definitions and context. There are so many DEI buzzwords — equity, allyship, bias — and we might assume everyone knows what they mean and why they matter. When we couple definitions with historical context and show how they operate in both overt and subtle ways in corporations, learners gain awareness and can consider new perspectives.
Second, DEI trainings should incorporate more authentic storytelling by credible peers. While DEI and HR leaders bring subject matter expertise, when employees can hear from peers and see themselves in the stories, next steps feel clearer. This also shifts the burden from DEI leaders — often people of color — for carrying the weight of these emotionally taxing conversations.
Third, learners should leave with tangible actions that are aligned with their roles and scope of influence. While employees may be familiar with commonly used examples of actions, impactful DEI trainings help identify how to leverage professional networks, work responsibilities, position and cultural power to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces.
Finally, DEI trainings should speak to everyone, not just dominant groups. Practitioners should ask, “Who are we centering in this conversation? Have we unintentionally alienated groups we want to feel included? Are we acknowledging people of color, women, LGBTQ+ participants and tending to their learning needs?” Trainings that courageously recognize varied participant needs ensure the learnings carry forward.
Chief talent, diversity and inclusion officer at Adobe
Many companies offer great DEI trainings as foundational tools that articulate the imperative and importance of inclusion and guide self-reflection, but what happens after the session is over? For it to work, DEI needs to be how we show up every day and not just a program or training. There’s an opportunity for companies to continue to create unifying moments that catalyze people to come together to be curious, creative, collaborative, and solve problems together beyond a training session.
This is essential in creating an environment for all talent to grow and thrive. Companies should seek to create spaces that respect our differences yet also create a bridge where employees can have heart-led conversations that include storytelling to create a sense of vulnerability without consequence and community that has deeply felt accountability to each other.
Beyond gathering in these larger and smaller moments, people managers also need to be equipped to inspire, create connections, listen, seek feedback, and even when it is difficult, speak up when we see an opportunity to improve and achieve something bigger than ourselves. This needs to be an expectation for how leaders lead, by being bold and nimble, in the service of always making sure people feel respected, heard, and that they belong. These leadership actions enable people to reach their full potential. And the more we do that, the more we can develop a diverse and inclusive culture that ultimately sees the best in people and allows them to do their best work.
VP, workforce diversity, equity & inclusion at Meta
Many corporate DEI initiatives focus on increasing the diversity of the workforce without creating a more inclusive work environment to encourage and promote the development of that diversity and support individuals. Meaningful progress requires organizations to educate employees and provide the right tools to sustain and scale their DEI efforts in line with their business strategy.
An aspect sometimes overlooked is the importance of providing corporate DEI trainings, tools and resources from the start of employment. Doing so underscores DEI as a priority for the organization and motivates and inspires employees to get involved in DEI efforts from the beginning. At Meta, we’re focused on creating an inclusive and educational environment from day one of employment. As part of our new-hire orientation, we stress the importance of DEI through a series of hands-on sessions. We have worked with leading researchers and invested in learning opportunities to create an environment where everyone can thrive. These include courses such as Managing Inclusion, Be the Ally and Managing Bias.
As a DEI executive I’d like to not only see companies continue to develop and offer DEI trainings, but also hold managers accountable and make DEI trainings available outside of their organizations. I see that education in the DEI space is really table stakes… Meta leaders feel so strongly about the importance of our Managing Bias training that all people managers are required to complete this course. We also offer a public version of the course available to anyone. At Meta, we believe managing bias is an essential part of building diverse and high-performing organizations.
Founder and CEO at Diversio
In our experience delivering trainings at Diversio, we see different needs on the part of employees versus managers. DEI training should be targeted to the appropriate level.
At the employee level, I'd love to see more role-playing and empathy-building. Everyone should leave with tactics they can use to create a more inclusive workplace and address bias head-on.
At the leadership level, it is critical for managers to come away with a clear understanding of the business case for DEI at their organization. As much as possible, each manager should have clear DEI targets and incentives to achieve them.
In all cases, training should focus on achieving tangible changes and measurable outcomes. This can be measured by conducting anonymous experience surveys to understand how diverse employees' experience have changed (or not) as a result of the training. Depending on these results, the training content can be tweaked, modified or enhanced to ensure it is having real impact.
Chief belonging, diversity and equity officer at UKG
There are three fundamental shifts I’d like to see when it comes to improving corporate diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts. First, is to reframe DEI&B “trainings” as foundational learning. In the corporate world, we all go through trainings, but these are almost always compliance-driven. While some people will engage and take the opportunity to learn, for others, it can become more about “checking the box.” Instead, a foundational learning approach taps into the human desire to learn and advance beyond what’s immediately relevant in a work environment. This includes creating a space where it’s safe for employees to learn and ask questions without fear of judgment. This approach is more effective and in turn, more authentic, because it mobilizes people from where they are, and empowers them to reach the level of advanced awareness that actually leads to advocacy.
Second, I’d like to see companies broaden their understanding of corporate belonging. Organizations often miss the opportunity to foster an authentic sense of belonging at work because they fail to recognize the complexity of intersectional identities among their workforce. Gender and race are two default classifications, but the reality is that many other facets of a person’s experience are central to their identity. Create the space for employees to self-identify, and from there people will be more empowered to show up to DEI&B-focused programs as their full selves, ready to share and learn from their teammates’ lived experiences.
Lastly, companies must invest more in equipping managers to effectively and authentically lead DEI&B initiatives, and this means redefining leadership as inclusive leadership. As part of DEI&B initiatives, leaders must be invested in learning about and understanding their employees' experiences in order to do their jobs effectively. After all, you can’t be a great leader without being an inclusive one. DEI&B trainings––and foundational learning programs––must take this into account.
Chief people officer at Stash
1) DEI training should have the same level of importance and accountability as compliance training: yearly, interactive and available for all employees/new hires. At Stash, this includes unconscious bias training to enable employees to evaluate their own biases and connect with peers with different experiences and perceptions.
2) Incorporate an Employee Resource Group leading roundtables dedicated to specific DEI topics with breakout rooms. This creates a larger sense of community by personalizing the workplace experience and increasing engagement through sharing lived experiences. At Stash, this includes:
- Black Magic
- APA ERG
3) The standard “training” umbrella should incorporate storytelling throughout the year via ERGs, executives or outside experts. This can increase our empathy and emotional intelligence across the company. At Stash, this includes Allyship Awareness Month, Leadership Spotlights, Employee Experience spotlights, Women’s History Month, Black History Month and ERG roundtables featuring diverse external perspectives in the finance and tech industry.
VP of ESG at ThoughtExchange
For corporate DEI Training to be more impactful, I would recommend:
1) Promoting an understanding of power and systems of oppression: identifying the systemic nature of discrimination, such as anti-Blackness and generational gaps such as "not enough Black applicants for leadership roles." We first need to understand our personal, collective and institutional roles in addressing these issues systematically. (This work is much more than just being nice to the racialized or LGBTQ2+ person who just joined your team!)
2) Learning about Truth & Reconciliation: In the U.S. and Canada, as in other countries, we, as settlers, have a duty to learn about, acknowledge and address the history and harmful impacts of colonization of Indigenous peoples on the lands we occupy. This includes learning traditional Indigenous knowledge, culture and practices as part of our decolonization efforts. At a minimum, we should ALL be familiar with the 94 Calls to Action for Truth & Reconciliation in Canada and similar calls to action in other countries.
3) Pairing learning with action: One thing is clear — companywide generic training gives us a shared language, but it is far from enough. We also need tailored training that helps individuals understand how to apply DEI principles in the context of their own specific roles. Furthermore, after every training session, we should ask: How do we put learnings into action as individuals, as teams and as an organization, holding ourselves accountable for the promises we make? After all, training is not a standalone solution. It must be embedded in a comprehensive organizational approach to DEI work.
EVP of people at Heap Analytics
Corporate DEI initiatives need to go beyond one-off trainings and programs. Done right, DEI is a 24/7 commitment. To be successful, companies can’t just see DEI as a box to be checked off — they need to approach their DEI initiatives as both a force for social good and as an important long-term investment in the success of the business. This commitment starts with hiring a head of DEI who can drive change and impact across the organization, from hiring to training to ongoing maintenance of company culture. This is no longer a nice-to-have but an imperative.
To retain diverse talent, workplaces need to make sure that employees feel safe to share their thoughts and ideas. Companies can create this safety by actively cultivating a "seek to understand before seeking to be understood" mentality. It’s also critical for the company to formalize different ways for employees to give input and feedback, since some prefer to share in the moment while others need to "take a beat." Trainings can also focus on fostering a growth mindset at all levels of the organization. While doing this certainly helps with individual development, it, more importantly, helps develop a culture of widespread empathy and respect — the key building blocks of an inclusive culture.
Allowing DEI committees to partner directly with executive leadership to share feedback and best practices has also helped establish an inclusive environment for our growing workforce.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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