Should Companies Give Diversity Training?

scene of diversity training with a half circle setup

The New Business Case for Diversity Training

Very similar to how COVID 19 made the business case for digital transformation more palatable and easy to explain by forcing the move to remote work, recent protests around systemic racism against black people/ African Americans and police brutality have laid bare the case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Businesses got the message loud and clear.

People will no longer tolerate convenient silence and complicity with a system which does not work for everyone. Talent of today and of the future demand inclusivity in their brands and their employers, or they will speak with their feet. Consumers of today do not buy the employer brand if it does not live up to its claims of being a great, diverse, and inclusive place to work, and speak with their dollars. Check out these examples of prominent companies upheaved by failure by leadership to address systemic racism in their own organizations, with some forced to take dramatic and immediate action. 

While it is much different than community-level activism, corporate diversity and inclusion can be a powerful tool for building the future of inclusive workplaces. It allows us to envision a fair and equitable workplace free from discrimination, and turn it into a reality. There are significant tools within the practice of DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) which can be deployed at different phases of an organization’s cultural maturity. The first tool that comes to mind, and the first that is requested generally falls in the box of “diversity training.” Should organizations even give diversity training and does it work?

When Diversity Training is a Bad Idea

No you should not if you are looking for a one-off to check boxes.

Decades of scientific1 and corporate research suggests that diversity training does not succeed in fostering more inclusive work environments (even if gains in attitude changes are made), and actually activate biases that had been implicit, now into overt actions in resistance to change. A short list of where diversity training tends to fail:

  • “Tokenization” and “Otherism”: When diversity training is not itself representative, exclusively putting “minority” people into a position to educate “non-minority” people on Diversity and Inclusion, the result is often tokenizing2 them to the audience.
  • Mandatory: When diversity training is compulsory, people can feel singled out and it makes people reject content outright. It sends a negative message.
  • Overwhelming: Introduces a slew of new terminology all in one sitting, that has the effect of increasing confusion. It leaves people feeling like they must “walk on eggshells.”
  • Inconvenience: Forces people out of work to deliver training that is not presented to correlate directly to work.
  • Generic Content: Delivers boilerplate content without addressing the issues within THIS specific workforce.
  • Exclusivity: Address a specific segment of the organization, such as managers, only.
  • Mismatch: Deliver content for the wrong size and industry of the organization.

When Diversity Training is a Great Idea

Yes, you should –  if you are fully invested in long term outcomes and behavioral changes that shape your culture. So, what should an effective diversity training accomplish or bring?

  • Tools: Leave people with frameworks from which to work through issues of diversity, inclusivity, and representation.
  • Forum: Foster a “no-judgement zone” from which difficult conversations should be launched. When you start feeling the need to hide or not discuss something, then you contribute to a toxic work environment. If it can be a headline then it can be a conversation at work.
  • Ability to Communicate: Incorporate storytelling and active listening as part of a skill to be learned during sessions. Listening and clarity in communication are some of the greatest soft skills of a leader.
  • More Talents at Work: Address “Imposter Syndrome” in the workforce, leading to people becoming more comfortable vocalizing and bringing all their talents to work.
  • Social Accountability: Place the responsibility of inclusive and welcoming environments on each person under the span of the organization culture. Who should be ultimately accountable? The CEO and the Chairperson of the Board roles. Any delegation of the responsibility to roles below the executive suite leads to failure. Buy-in fades over time and as faces change, so it is clearly not enough.
  • Inspiration: Leave attendees with a desire to self educate, and learn more. 

DEIB in People Ops

In People Operations, we shift the conversation as part of everyday work to nudge toward a better company culture. What I, personally, like to do is make sure that training is embedded into other common types of training companies deliver such as sales training, tech talks, or safety training. The light bulbs go off, and you won’t face as much resistance because people just get it. Be creative. This is the place of diversity training in 2020 and beyond – shifting the conversation about inclusion and how to think and act to bring about better downstream outcomes.

DEIB is the Future of Work

It may be trendy to provide diversity training to the workforce, and call it a day. But understand that this training is a small part of a change in your organization’s architecture, language, and cultural norms. Cultural norms now determine brand loyalty as much as corporate decisions and product quality, and can discredit Corporate Social Responsibility efforts in the eyes of the customers, internal and external. This is not a trendy moment, this is the future of work.

I leave you with this:

“How are you measuring the success or failure of your diversity training?”


“Who is ultimately accountable for Diversity & Inclusion results at your company?”



Offline Citations:

1Chang, E.H., Milkman, K.L., Grommet, D.M., Rebele, R.W., Massey, C., Duckworth, A.L., Grant, A.M. The mixed effects of online diversity training. PNAS 116, vol.16 7779-7781 (2019).

2Laws, J.L. The psychology of tokenism: An analysis. Sex Roles 1, 51–67 (1975).

Are Your Employees Empowered to Use Their best Talents?

Attract and retain top talent with Poprouser. From sourcing and screening candidates to onboarding and training, we'll help you build a high-performing team that drives business success. Talk to us today and see how we can help you find and keep the best people for your organization.

Complete Needs Assessment
Cody Bess