Despite some of the push-back that has been in the news recently, diversity training is as crucial in today’s multicultural and globalized society as it’s ever been. Why? For the simple reason that it leads to a workplace culture better suited for getting things done. The more equipped our leaders and employees are to work effectively both across distinct (race, gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) and subtle (personality types, learning styles, experiences, etc.) differences, the smarter, more efficient, more innovative, and more agile we become. Just as importantly, the more likely it is that our best and brightest contributors will choose to stay.

What Is Diversity Training?

Let’s start by addressing a basic question: What is diversity training? The diversity field itself has accumulated a rich selection of acronyms over the years. D&I = Diversity & Inclusion. DEI/DE&I = Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. DEIB = adds B for Belonging. IED = Equity, Inclusion, Diversity. The newest one that I have seen is JEDI = Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion.

Regardless of the acronym, training in this area is typically referred to as “diversity training.” The fundamental purpose of diversity training is to help participants explore the benefits of diversity in their workplace, challenge stereotypes and biases, and promote behaviors that help all employees feel that they belong. It aims to foster awareness, understanding, and respect for different backgrounds, perspectives, and identities, while equipping participants with the skills and tools to create a more equitable, respectful, and emotionally healthy environment for everyone.

A comprehensive diversity training curriculum should equip individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate diverse environments effectively. More importantly, it should also plant the seeds that lead to attitude, value, and eventually behavior changes. Over almost three decades of experience, I’ve seen one pattern that has remained consistent: If we focus on the head (skills, knowledge) but neglect the heart (attitudes and values), the use of new skills and other positive behavior change will be temporary, if at all.

There are 5 critical areas of learning that an effective DE&I training curriculum should address:

1. All new behaviors start with a new AWARENESS (head)

  • Start up front by discussing the business case for DE&I training. It is not a fad, part of some secret, social agenda, or effort to manipulate people. It’s a vital component for creating a workplace culture that allows all of us to do our jobs better and outperforming our competitors.
  • Explore diversity and its significance in various domains, including workplaces, educational institutions, and communities.
  • Recognize both the obvious and more nuanced dimensions of diversity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, socioeconomic status, ability, personality, and intersectionality (the different combinations of these elements).
  • Identify (without judging) personal biases, stereotypes, and prejudices, and understand their impact on attitudes, values, behaviors, and decision-making processes.
  • Understand the long-term importance of self-awareness and continuous reflection in fostering respectful, inclusive attitudes and behaviors.

2. Awareness opens the door to UNDERSTANDING (head)

  • Explore the historical and sociocultural factors shaping diversity dynamics, including systemic discrimination, privilege, power dynamics, and social justice movements.
  • Examine the concept of cultural competence and its relevance in fostering inclusive environments.
  • Consider and discuss the experiences of marginalized groups, including their challenges, contributions, and resilience.
  • Understand the impact of language, symbols, and media and their respective roles in either perpetuating exclusion or evolving to inclusivity and belonging.

3. Understanding permits the cultivation of EMPATHY and COMPASSION (heart)

  • Develop empathy towards individuals from diverse backgrounds by listening to their stories, experiences, and perspectives.
  • Practice perspective-taking exercises to understand how others may perceive situations differently based on their identities and lived experiences.
  • Cultivate empathy through meaningful interactions and relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Recognize the importance of empathy in building trust, fostering collaboration, and resolving conflicts across diverse groups.
  • Discuss meaningful ways that we can allow our empathy for others (an emotion) to lead to compassion and kindness (actions) in our relationships.

4. Inclusion and belonging require quality COMMUNICATION (skills)

  • Enhance communication skills to effectively engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds, including active listening, asking questions, and providing constructive feedback.
  • Learn strategies for communicating respectfully and inclusively, fostering curiosity, avoiding assumptions, and acknowledging differences.
  • Develop cross-cultural communication competence to navigate cultural nuances, nonverbal cues, and communication styles.
  • Practice communication exercises that promote understanding, empathy, and collaboration in multicultural settings.

5. Awareness, understanding and compassion lead to new ACTIONS, DECISIONS, and BEHAVIORS

  • Explore and specifically identify the behaviors that are most often perceived as being civil, respectful, and inclusive.
  • Specifically call out the damaging behaviors that disrespectful, exclusive, and in some cases maybe even illegal (such as harassment or bullying).
  • Identify opportunities to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within personal, professional, and community spheres.
  • Develop strategies for recognizing and challenging bias, discrimination, and microaggressions in everyday interactions and institutional practices.
  • Advocate for inclusive policies, practices, and initiatives that address systemic barriers and promote equity and social justice.
  • Engage in allyship and solidarity with marginalized groups by amplifying their voices, supporting their initiatives, and advocating for their rights.

A comprehensive diversity training curriculum should encompass a range of learning objectives aimed at raising awareness, promoting understanding, fostering empathy, enhancing communication, and inspiring new actions and behaviors. Most importantly, it should serve as a foundation for reminding ourselves that we are all part of the human race; that we are all healthier, happier, and far more productive when each of us is encouraged to apply our full and unique know-how to the important work we do each day.