How to improve your diversity training

by Brett Henebery20 Feb 2017
In today’s multicultural workplace, diversity training is a must. However, a new study has discovered that organisations are lacking when it comes to ensuring this training has a positive impact. 

According to research by the University of Buffalo’s (UB) School of Management, diversity training programs are not effective at changing attitudes and behaviours towards diverse groups in the workplace – and the implications of this are clear.

“In today’s political climate, diversity training has the potential to make a huge positive impact in addressing biases and prejudice within organisations,” said Kate Bezrukova, PhD, associate professor of organisation and human resources in the UB School of Management.

“However, training must be conducted thoughtfully. At best, it can engage and retain women and people of colour in the workplace, but at worst, it can backfire and reinforce stereotypes.”

Bezrukova said that the attitudes this training attempts to change are generally strong, emotion-driven and tied to our personal identities, and her team found little evidence that long-term effects to them are sustainable.

However, she pointed out that when people are reminded of scenarios covered in training by their colleagues or even the media, they are able to retain or expand on the information they learned.

The study found training is most effective when it is mandatory, delivered over an extended period of time, integrated with other initiatives and designed to increase both awareness and skills.

In addition, participants responded more favourably to programs that used several methods of instruction, including lectures, discussions and exercises.

“It’s critical to offer diversity programs as part of a series of related efforts, such as mentoring or networking groups for minority professionals,” Bezrukova said.

“When organisations demonstrate a commitment to diversity, employees are more motivated to learn about and understand these societal issues and apply that in their daily interactions.”

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