Diversity training is only the first step your company needs to take to be truly inclusive. To retain diverse employees, education and awareness need to continue well past the initial training program. Here’s how to keep diversity and inclusion thriving in your company.
Year after year, companies of all sizes are placing more focus on diversity. In Deloitte’s “2017 Global Human Capital Trends” survey, 69% of executives consider it a priority (which is up 10% since 2014).
Unfortunately, many companies stop at diversity training.
Diversity training is a necessary first step to help broaden perspectives, but it doesn’t address existing issues within the organization. The training is like taking the training wheels off a bike—it shows progress, but that doesn’t mean people will be able to keep riding on only two wheels. There is a lot more learning and practicing left to do.
Many companies still struggle to retain diverse employees after diversity training, or their recruiting efforts seem to gather the same set of employee candidates as before training. Training, unfortunately, doesn’t often change perception of minority candidates. That’s where inclusion comes in. Companies need to change the outward perspective of the folks currently on the ground within companies. And inclusion efforts are more nuanced, so it takes a lot more than just a couple of training classes to change employees’ mindsets.
Why Some Companies Stop at Diversity Training
I’ve worked with companies that have had diversity training but were still having problems hiring, retaining, and successfully including minorities. These companies are baffled: Isn’t that what the diversity training was supposed to fix? Why didn’t it work?
At smaller companies, the response I often hear from company leaders when I ask how they’ve changed since diversity training is, “Well, I just ask my people if they have issues, and they’ll tell me.” At larger companies, the most common answers are, “We have [insert popular phase] practices in place” and even “We don’t have those issues here.” Obviously, these responses are more wishful than realistic.
Diversity training is appealing to company leaders and HR because it often means that leaders can call someone in, set aside an few hours, and feel like change has been made. For business leaders and those in HR, it’s a relief to assume they’ve checked off some requirement by simply completing diversity training. But if companies want to take D&I issues seriously, the work is just beginning once diversity training wraps up.
Making Continued D&I Efforts Manageable
The lessons learned in diversity training are only one piece of the puzzle—and those lessons will likely soon be forgotten without policies and culture that reinforces them. Still, addressing D&I issues within your company doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s possible—and smart—to break down efforts into bite-sized chunks. With manageable efforts, your company will be on its way to being more inclusive. The following strategies are good starting points:
- Seek to find and understand the issues: If you’re unaware that D&I issues exist in your company (I’m here to tell you: they do), then develop an investigative approach and structure it in a way that benefits your entire employee base. Gather information internally, and, if necessary, hire outside consultants to evaluate issues from an objective viewpoint. The goal should be to increase your company’s overall understanding of humanity and to learn how to grow while fine-tuning the human experience for all employees.
- Ask for feedback: The companies that successfully implement and follow through with D&I initiatives make it easy for employees to provide valuable feedback. Skip the quick surveys and training evaluations in favor of something more unique to your organization. Find ways to allow all employees to make suggestions free of consequence. In fact, make it a regular activity so employees learn to expect it, plan for it, and prepare suggestions ahead of time. If you conduct regular performance reviews, then make offering suggestions and feedback related to D&I issues part of the process. This helps level the playing field.
- Involve employees: Employees can be ambassadors in this area, helping to spread workable solutions throughout each department. Task ambassadors with in-depth research into D&I issues, as well as developing outside-the-box solutions for addressing them. Tackle companywide issues by making affinity groups actual contributors to the decision-making process. As advisory boards, they know more about ground-level issues and are present when they occur. Therefore, they should have direct meetings and consultations with executive management.
- Evaluate and uphold your complaint process: In reality, most popular administrative structures are not sufficient to support these types of issues—they’re more designed for producing the company’s products or services efficiently. Company leaders will not be anyone’s confidant. No one wants to tell the person who’s writing the paychecks something he or she wouldn’t want to hear, especially if the employee has seen similar complaints receive little or negative attention. It’s important to make clear that the attention from voicing a concern should never be negative and that the company’s goal will always be to resolve the issue so everyone feels safe and comfortable.
- Hire support: There are likely employees at your company who have dealt with D&I issues silently for years, and bringing their concerns to the forefront can be more than uncomfortable. It might be hard for some employees to believe that their concerns will actually be addressed or handled with the proper care. To create a truly inclusive environment and encourage honest, thoughtful feedback, consider hiring an on-site therapist for all employees to visit, free of charge.
While more companies are placing more importance on diversity, many still fail to realize that they’ve hired humans, not just assets. People’s jobs take up most of their waking hours, and their employers are as responsible for their well-being as they are. That means creating an environment that allows them to be human, with all of their unique quirks and characteristics, without feeling singled-out or antagonized because of it.
Consider diversity and inclusion initiatives as important as any other function your business needs to be successful, and you’ll learn to see them as necessary for your company’s growth. It’s just like following the recipe for a cake: the more you do it, the easier it becomes to modify the recipe (your policies) with new ingredients (D&I initiatives) to suit every occasion.
LaShana Lewis is the founder of L.M. Lewis Consulting, based in St. Louis, Missouri. LaShana’s background in business and her experience with inclusion efforts allow her to offer a wide range of consulting services and the necessary tools and expertise companies need in order to find and retain diverse talent.