Diversity training is a funny concept -- we need to teach people about diversity? Is that even a subject? We are all individuals, with unique backgrounds and characteristics, so is it not a step backwards to typecast people based on phenotype, national origin or religion? It's not like we'll ever get the subtle nuances right anyway. The reality is that all organizations experience some sort of diversity, precisely because people are not the same all the world over. In all but the tiniest communities, there are groups with different backgrounds and cultures. When the organization operates globally, the ability to work smoothly with different types of people becomes a critical success factor. Furthermore, what seems like common sense to an intelligent person should be met with the old saw "there's nothing common about common sense." Yes, you have to educate people in the organization about diversity, and the issues therein. An organization that competes globally needs to have a standardized face to the world, a common organizational culture that includes an understanding of the world we live in, its people, and how to interact with them.
Before setting up any training course, the organization needs to understand why the course is important as this will help to define the objectives of the course. At the basic level, there is the legal aspect. There are laws that prevent discrimination based on a number of factors -- gender, race, religion and ethnicity among them. At the local level, there may be extensions of these laws. Any organization needs to understand the legal framework for discrimination law, because all members of the organization are bound to follow the laws, and failure to do so creates legal liability for the entire organization. Ensuring compliance has to be the first objective of the training.
The second objective needs to be to establish a consistent organizational culture with respect to diversity issues. The organization can determine for itself what specific elements this culture will have, but the training should have the objective of developing the overall organizational culture, so that the way the company handles diversity is implemented consistently across all of its operations. This again is important for compliance, but also because a strong organizational culture provides clarity for employees. There are going to be times when the corporate culture is different from someone's individual views, so that person will have to understand what the corporate culture is, and that the corporate culture takes precedence.
Another reason that the training needs to create a common organizational culture with respect to diversity is that everybody has his or her own starting point with respect to diversity. Some people come from very cosmopolitan areas, and probably do not need any training on this issue. Other people need a lot of training -- the objective is that everybody, no matter their starting point, will leave the training with the same understanding of diversity and how that manifests in the organizational culture.
Types of Training
Diversity training takes many forms, and the structure of the training may in many aspects reflect the objectives of the training. Ferdman and Brody (1996), in an early study, noted that there are many different forms that diversity training takes. They note that such training can be as simple as a "one hour briefing to an organization-wide change initiative," and presumably everything in between. Training can be online or offline. It can focus on scenarios, on general education, or on both. There can be tests or not. The structure of the training will be dependent on the budget, and the importance of the training for the company.
It is recommended that, to reduce costs, most of the training be conducted online. There should be an offline component, and this should occur twice -- once at the beginning to set the tone for the training, and once at the end, to ensure that the training has met with the objectives. The company should have an in-house trainer, and this person should be supported with a reasonable budget, and testimonials from the CEO. Ultimately, training is more likely to stick if the employees know that the need for this training comes right from the top of the company...
The trainer should be an expert both on the subject and on workplace training, so that there are no performance gaps in either area. It is worth spending the money to ensure that the training program is effective.
Where the first introductory training should highlight what the desired organizational culture with respect to diversity should be, and the need for this training, the online course should be the focal point of the learning. The course should include readings in particular. The reason why scenarios are not used to illustrate concepts in the readings is simple -- when scenarios are used, people will relate real-life scenarios to the scenarios that they have learned. This sounds good, but real life scenarios are more complex, more nuanced, and may look completely different from the ones in the course. If students are merely parroting what they learned in the course, they are not truly understanding the concepts. That level of understanding can only come from the readings. Staff mentors should also be available as part of this program -- some people benefit from having someone to talk to about these issues, so that they can better understand the concepts that are being explained.
The final session with the trainer will focus on discussion. One of the ways people understand about diversity is to encounter it, and to personalize it. When someone has no real concept of other people, they might not realize just how different other people are. Thus, it is important to have genuine, meaningful dialogue about the subjects to help break down the barriers people sometimes have when they have limited experience with a subject like this.
Lastly, the model needs to emphasize how diversity issues affect specific parts of the organization. Derald (1991) wrote a long time ago that diversity affects some areas more than others -- human resources, global marketing, and systemic discrimination -- so these can be some of the key focal points for the training.
There are no conceivable legal issues with training about diversity. The point is the training is to ensure that there is legal compliance throughout the organization (Scott, 2015). Ideally, the training will help the organization have a stronger concept of diversity than presently exists in law. So knowledge of the law is actually quite important in this training. The laws are going to be different in other countries, too, which raises some issues when training a global workforce. Protections for people are stronger in some other countries, but there are also countries that have no real laws regarding human rights. This, again, is why the organization needs its own standards, preferably ones that are tougher than the toughest laws on the issue.
The demographic diversity of the employees will affect the discussion of cultural diversity. In most cases, it will make the discussion better, because more viewpoints will be available. There may be challenges, too. Sometimes if there is a strong majority in a group, a minority person will not feel comfortable with the discussion. Sometimes, this is an emotionally-charged issue. But the point is that we want our employees to be adults about this, so it is not recommended to think about this -- the end objective is that such conversations can be open, and frank, and that people feel comfortable working with others who have different perspectives. Learning about diversity is an appropriate place to start that process.
There are more ethical implications with respect to not conducting diversity training. The organization that does not prepare its employees for diversity will invariably have more problems with a diverse workforce, and will have more issues when it tries to do business internationally. The company has an ethical obligation to ensure that it promotes positive values, and diversity training is a part of that. To not conduct diversity training will result in more negativity at times, whether it is people facing discrimination or whether the organization is opening itself up to legal action. It is the duty of management to protect the employees and the other stakeholders as well from not just discrimination but from other negative consequences of ignorance.
While it is the objective of this training to deliver an organization that has a standardized view of diversity, there are certain challenges with respect to this. The first challenge is that people do come from different starting points. Inevitably, these starting points frame the structure and content of the training. It is not possible nor is it reasonable to develop a training program that fails to take into account the audience, and expect it to work. So as far as that goes, the training cannot be standardized that easily. It was noted above that even within the U.S., someone…
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