Diversity Training in the Workplace, is it Necessary?

Written by Steven Marwick
Author

Helping employees to understand diversity in the workplace is to be welcomed. Many businesses are seeking to formalise this by putting in place diversity training programmes to help foster a culture of respect amongst employees. This can help to create a more harmonious and fluid working environment. 

Many employees, particularly those in the older generations may not be used to having such a diverse workforce. At the same time, those in Generation Z will expect the workforce to reflect the level of diversity in their own lives. Management will often have to manage this seeming conflict of expectations between disparate age generations and ensure that there is a positive and inclusive culture at the company.

It is easy to say that one way to increase the level of diversity in the workplace is to reduce reliance on older workers. The flip side to this is that they have accumulated a wide range of transferable skills over the course of their careers which would be a real loss to most companies, particularly when there is a skills gap affecting the economy. 

There is also the issue that this attitude may be seen as ageism, which isn’t something that management should seek to encourage. Having employees of varying ages is a form of diversity and it is important that older employees are encouraged into mentorship roles for some of the younger staff members, to successfully show them the ropes.

Diversity Training in the Workplace

Many people have heard of diversity training in the workplace and think it is only useful for those more on the intolerant and older range of the spectrum but it can actually be useful for everyone, no matter their level of familiarity with the subject. Some of the aspects that can be dealt with are: 

Unconscious Biases

We all have unconscious biases embedded in our psyche based on our varied early life circumstances and upbringings. These are ideas that are buried in our subconscious mind and aren’t generally things that we are actively aware of in our everyday lives unless we have taken part in diversity training. 

It can be quite confronting to realise that you have some biases that you weren’t aware of and that these can affect your behaviour toward people or groups of people that you perceive as “different” from you, whether this is due to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. 

Nevertheless, these biases can be present and can taint things like recruitment processes and career progression if you aren’t careful. The way this manifests itself is in certain assumptions being made about some groups, so for example you may think a particular thing on an unconscious level about people from a lower socioeconomic group than you. You may internally stereotype them as lazy and prefer people from your own group when undertaking interviews and the like. This means that many people unconsciously recruit other people who “look like” them, ie they share the same socioeconomic group, ethnicity and age range. This is one of the worst ways to ensure that you have a diverse workplace. 

Not only can this lead to poorer diversity at your company, but it can also lead to missing out on some of the top talents in your field because they don’t want to come to an environment that has a company culture that feels unwelcoming. 

Recognise Positive Qualities in Others

Diversity workshops and training allow users to get to know colleagues from different parts of the company and complete the courses together. This brings people in the company together and gives them the chance to work alongside people they might not have done in other circumstances. This provides the opportunity to see other people’s skills and positive qualities face to face and this is appreciated by many who take the courses.

This aspect of diversity workshops can help to foster a stronger spirit of collaboration within companies and departments and allow for people with different skill sets to understand what these are and how they can help each other to upskill and to reach their full potential within the company. Sometimes understanding how your particular specialism in a company complements those provided by others can help to gain a better overview of the company structure.

Learning to Identify Microaggressions

Taking the time to explore what are termed “microaggressions” will help employees to be able to self-regulate and figure out when they have overstepped the mark when it comes to discrimination. Microaggressions are pretty small acts of discrimination which can be indirect or subtle in their nature and therefore hard to combat. 

Microaggressions can take the form of a white man or woman clutching their valuables tighter when they see a black person walk by. This is a microaggression that suggests that they think there is going to be a negative outcome when they are approached by a black person. This is a subtle and insidious form of racism, but it is racism nonetheless and must be countered in order to move forward as a company which has a good reputation for being able to provide a safe and inclusive workplace.  

Does Diversity Training Work?

Many people swear by the principles espoused by diversity training and are sure that it is having a positive effect on the workplace communities that are affected. The fact that a company has a diversity training programme in place at all sends a positive message to employees that the company cares about cohesion and inclusion. 

Just having a programme in place at all sends out the message that inclusion and diversity are taken seriously at the company and that this is something that has management approval. This explicit approval of the programme allows people from many different backgrounds to feel that they will be supported if there are any incidents at work that they need to involve management and Human Resources in. It is an excellent way to stimulate conversation of the pertinent issues surrounding discrimination in the workplace, and how best to eradicate it

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