Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity Programs: Not Just About “Soft” Skills

Diversity programs have moved beyond sensitivity training.

A new survey of more than 2,500 senior HR and training executives revealed a wide variety of diversity initiatives and program elements. The most common? Leadership development.

“Just a few years ago, diversity programs usually meant just awareness training. Those programs were separate from other hard and soft leadership skills training sponsored by the chief learning officer,” says Verna Ford, an executive consultant with Novations Group, the Boston-based consulting firm that commissioned the study.

But these days, Ford says, most leadership and management strategies include diversity and inclusion components. “Put another way, diversity is now prone to be part of other initiatives that position people to better serve the business needs of the organization,” she says. “This kind of synergy is essential since everyone in the organization has to be ready for whatever comes. That’s why there’s the focus on learning and professional development.”

The study participants said the following are elements of their organization’s diversity and inclusion program:

  • leadership development (50.3 %);
  • managing a diverse workforce (44 %);
  • awareness training (43.4 %);
  • mentoring/coaching (40.9 %);
  • diversity council (32.1 %);
  • cross-cultural training (31.6 %);
  • audit of policies and procedures (27.5 %);
  • rewards/recognition (24.9 %);
  • affinity groups (23.3 %);
  • supplier diversity training (19.7 %); and
  • D&I metrics (19.2 %).

Mentoring and coaching are another growth area in diversity and inclusion programs, Ford noted. “Coaching is more systematic than in the past, with clear objectives and methodologies intended to create real development opportunities,” she says. “What’s crucial is that coaching should offer a safe space for an individual to learn from a company ‘master’ what are the unwritten rules of the game, proven strategies for handling dilemmas, insights about the company’s future, or how to get permissions to operate outside of the usual methods.”