The Case for Effective DE&I Training

Natasha Nicholson


June 23, 2021

Black man leading a workplace discussion.

Different groups of people experience the workplace differently. They have a lifetime of experiences that affect their behavior and how they perceive themselves and others. An effective diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) training program takes these circumstances into account and addresses outward problems, hidden issues and reveals unconscious biases that are lingering just under the surface.

According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 20% of all U.S. employees felt undervalued and disrespected in the workplace, and the problem is even more significant for Black workers, with one in three expressing the same. Additionally, 40% of LGBTQ+ women surveyed for McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 Report reported feeling the need to provide extra evidence of their competence to counteract being undervalued in the workplace.

Major Companies Focusing on DEI

Increasingly, companies are recognizing this disparity of experience. A survey by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that 62% of HR professionals responding said their “organization plans to take action to combat racial inequities.”

According to LinkedIn's 2021 Workplace Learning Report, nearly two-thirds (64%) of learning and development (L&D) professionals globally—and nearly three-quarters (73%) in North America—reported that their executives have made diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs a priority.

Companies like FedEx and Marriott International have made DEI a cornerstone of their efforts. As a testament to its commitment, FedEx wrote a letter to all of its employees and leadership on the importance of diversity and inclusion as one of its core values. And the 2020 DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list recognized Marriott as the number one company for diversity across industries.

Effective Versus Ineffective Training

DE&I programs are multi-faceted and the training component can have an enormous impact on the outcome. Even the most well-designed DE&I program can fall apart if the training is not effective. In addition to the audience experience, a practical, and yet critical consideration is the ease with which the program can be delivered. Easy access and streamlined integration with a company’s current learning management system can be a game-changer with implementation.

Creating any behavioral change starts with recognizing the offending behavior. If the training program is discordant with an individual’s perceptions, or if it feels clumsy, boring, tired and confusing, not only will it be ineffective, it can cause individuals to regress. At a time when you want your employees to become more enlightened, inadequate training can, at best, be a waste of time and at worst, reinforce bad behaviors.

Conversely, an effective training program will feel effortless, clear and engaging to participants. Because it is relatable, sensitive and nuanced, it will reach employees and managers in a meaningful way. And to create that compelling experience, the interface—the quality of the video production—will need to feel seamless and natural.

The DE&I Training Outcome

At the end of the day, what matters is creating change. Through DE&I training, your employees should have learned the foundation for being an ally and advocate to support a workplace that embraces diversity and inclusion at all levels. Here are the kind of outcomes you can expect if your training is successful.

  • Greater understanding: Your employees, managers and leaders have a greater understanding and appreciation of DE&I.
  • Meaningful connection: The participants can relate the training to their own lives and work situations. They see how they can support inclusivity.
  • Ability to empathize: They feel that the material was presented with sensitivity and care in a way that engenders empathy for everyone in the workplace.
  • A new way of thinking: Participants experienced “aha” moments and discovered new ways of looking at themselves and others.
  • Feeling prepared: The participants feel armed with new strategies and approaches when confronting tricky situations.
  • Sense of empowerment: Employees feel empowered to speak up for themselves and others when faced with uncomfortable circumstances.

The Risk of Inaction

The specific risks of not having a DE&I training program can be very serious. According to McKinsey & Company’s May 2020 quarterly report, over the last five years, the likelihood that diverse companies will out-earn their industry peers has grown. Companies with more gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability. Companies that ignore DE&I are falling behind, and this decline will start appearing in the following ways:

  • Lack of innovation: Diverse workforces, with employees who feel respected and heard, can be a powerful driver of innovation. Absent that, you have removed a critical differentiator that will put you behind.
  • Negative effect on morale: How can anyone feel good about their work environment if they feel marginalized? This leads to problems with morale, which once in place can be hard to improve.
  • Decrease in productivity: Research indicates that happy people make productive employees. And it stands to reason that unhappy employees who feel disrespected and marginalized will hurt productivity.
  • Reputation damage: Companies can be brought down by just one high-profile case, or by millions of individual stabs from critical employees and customers on social media. Once a company’s reputation is damaged, it can be unrecoverable.
  • Reduced profits: While companies who embrace DE&I will thrive, those who ignore it may see decreased profits in the coming years.

By implementing an effective DE&I training program and learning to embrace a wide range of voices, not only can companies avoid these costly outcomes, they can reverse course and join other companies that have elevated their culture, improved their reputation, and become more competitive through a thoughtful and purposeful commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Natasha Nicholson is director of content marketing at Kantola Training Solutions, an e-learning company focused on diversity, equity and inclusion and harassment prevention training.