Diversity training: What works and what does not

Diversity training: What works and what does not

    Whats Inside?

The modern workplace has become a mixed bag of employees from all different walks of life. Employees from different ethnicities, with different cultures, beliefs and values have found themselves having to interact daily with people that are different from them. This is why most organisations have begun to put in place measures that raise awareness of these diversity issues to improve team cohesiveness. One of these measures is the introduction of diversity training. Diversity training is training delivered to make participants more aware of diversity issues in the workplace, their own beliefs on diversity, as well as provide skills to help them interact, collaborate and work more closely with people that have different qualities to their own.

From a business perspective, this training has proven to have many advantages. These include increased collaboration and relational skills, protecting against violations of discrimination legislation (therefore reducing the firm’s risk profile) and empowering those from underrepresented groups to feel more confident and valued in the workplace. The ultimate goal of diversity training is to make employees understand that even if there are differences amongst the team members that they are working with, a little adjustment in one’s attitude will make for an extraordinary team. Employees who undergo diversity training move from simply tolerating the differences to understanding and valuing the differences whilst also appreciating how they make their teams better.


According to Katerina Bezrukova, co-author of a study 


that examined 40 years of research on diversity training, diversity and inclusion training has the potential to positively address biases and prejudice within organizations. It also leads to some real financial gains for companies as well, according to research by McKinsey & Co. They found that organizations with diverse workforces are 35% more likely to have above-average profit margins than companies with more homogenous employee bases.


Diversity training programs

In a survey conducted by Glassdoor, two-thirds of respondents reported that workplace diversity was something they considered when looking for a job and in general surveys have also shown that companies with greater ethnic and gender diversity tend to financially outperform less diversified competitors. These statistics suggest that diversity and inclusion are critical for companies that want to attract top talent in their industry and maximize profits.

However, this also requires that employers provide training to help employees understand company values about diversity, overcome unconscious biases, and build a more inclusive working environment. This is done through diversity training. The different types of diversity training programs are discussed below:


Awareness-based training

This type of training is generally used for sensitising employees. It deals with making employees aware of the importance of diversity in business. It also makes employees aware of their prejudices and cultural assumptions about others. The training uses case studies and experiential exercises as the method of training implementation.


Skill-based training

This deals with developing employees’ proficiency in handling diversity in the workplace. Various tools are used to take the employees from the awareness to the proficiency stage. The tools used help in improving employees’ interpretation of cross-cultural differences, communication with people from different cultures, and adaptability.


Diversity audits

Diversity Audits are formal assessments that evaluate the current situation, they are mostly involved in managing employee management attitudes such as their periodical review related to policies & procedures. Hence the diversity audits are a critical measure to manage the thought process of the employee within the organization.


Mentoring for Diversity

Many organizations mentor minority groups and deploy a wide range of knowledge, skills and motivate talented employees from different cultural backgrounds, sexes, or races/ethnicities to perform their best in reaching organizational goals. Some companies have a wide array of a cultural workforce where employees showcase different perspectives and skills to the table.



Gamification in workplace diversity training immediately brings different groups together as they work to solve a problem or reach a goal. In the best-case scenario, employees can interact on the platform as they learn and apply a new skill together.



Traditional diversity trainings feature reluctant (and sometimes angry and actively resistant) employees stuffed into a boardroom for hours at a time. Microlearning breaks trainings into small bites and delivers them just as employees need them. No more, no less. This can be a good way to introduce definitions and set common goals in workplace diversity training.


Mobile learning

Because so many workplaces offer telecommuting options with global workplaces, mobile learning is always available. Any time of the day, on every device, employees can access your workplace diversity training when they have the time and space to give it the attention it deserves.

Diversity training programs should:

  • Create common goals:Common goals create common bonds.
  • Confront unconscious bias:Everyone has unconscious biases that originate in the brain. Recognizing the tribal nature of people and working with it can help remove this “other-ness” response.
  • Focus on inclusion:Inclusion goes beyond just hiring for diversity. Inclusion actively seeks out, embraces, and encourages different ways of approaching and solving problems.
  • Be chosen wisely:Diversity training topics can be overwhelming. Conducting a training needs assessment before beginning can help to prioritize for your company.
  • Move away from prohibitive language:Introduce the idea of choosing to lean into a diverse workplace instead of demanding or requiring that all employees accept each other.


Diversity training for the workplace

Workplace diversity not only refers to the differences between employees but also to the acceptance and celebration of these differences at work. Diversity training is an essential part of building awareness and a cohesive work environment. In a worldwide survey of three million employees on diversity, employee satisfaction and organisational performance, it was found that creating an inclusive and harmonious environment was a key driver in employee engagement and commitment.

Diversity in the workplace is important because:

  • Economic growth increases:Human capital grows with more and more diversity in the workforce.
  • A larger pool means a better selection of candidates:  All the different experiences and perspectives from diverse team members help innovate and problem-solve every day as it results in a variety of unique talents to offer.
  • Avoiding turnover:Proper diversity training makes for a more social and pleasant workplace. Ignorance to diversity can give way to a hostile work environment. Employees will quit not necessarily because of the job, but because of the people surrounding them. And no company wants to be the fault of something so preventable.
  • Makes for a more creative and innovative workforce: With more diverse thinkers and doers, innovation and action can take place from a variety of angles. More creative ideas can be brought to the surface, honed, and built upon.
  • There’s a better understanding of consumers: Businesses have better insight into targeting consumers. This feeds into the previous benefit. The more variety of people you have in your workforce who are open to communicating, the more opportunity you have to sculpt perfect products.


What are the approaches to diversity training?

Diversity training is effective when it:

  • Lays out a company culture that is inclusive, not divisive
  • Respects, seek outs and embraces different approaches that are a result of diverse employees instead of merely “tolerating” them
  • Goes beyond a list of dos and don’ts to try to build a true understanding


To determine which training method is most effective over time, the researchers (Lindsey, King, Hebl, & Levine, 2015) tested three diversity training strategies: perspective taking, goal setting, and stereotype discrediting.


The perspective-taking strategy asks individuals to “step into someone else’s shoes” by imagining what it’s like to be a member of a different group. In other words, participants are asked to consider the experiences of dissimilar individuals as a way of understanding how those experiences may be different from their own.


Goal setting can be applied to diversity training programs by asking individuals to set personal goals that aim to improve diversity values and intergroup relations within their organization. For example, a diversity goal may be to use more inclusive language or to confront an individual who makes jokes about marginalized groups.


Stereotype discrediting aims to reduce prejudice and stereotyping of marginalized groups by confronting commonly held stereotypes. For example, a common stereotype will be presented to trainees, which will then be followed up with information that disproves the stereotype.



Although diversity training cannot altogether change individuals’ beliefs, it can increase awareness, impart knowledge and educate employees further on how to accept differences among fellow employees. The main goal of a successful diversity training programme is to create a positive work environment by helping employees recognise, be tolerant of, and accept differences among co-workers.


Fadzai Danha is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 242 481946-48/481950 or email: fadzai@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com


  1. https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/The-importance-of-training-in-diversity-management.482610
  2. https://diversityofficermagazine.com/diversity-inclusion/the-history-of-diversity-training-its-pioneers/
  3. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/best-diversity-training-programs-4843059
  4. http://thetrainingworld.com/resources/Diversity_Crosscultural_Multicultural_Training/
  5. https://www.edgepointlearning.com/blog/types-of-diversity-training/
  6. https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/9782-diversity-training.html

Fadzai Danha
This article was written by Fadzai a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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