Training

Training is one way to teach company values and reinforce them over time, and diversity training should be part of broader training and development programs. Startups should customize training for employees and managers, as different roles bring different responsibilities. Managers and executives should be trained and should participate in training others to show that training and diversity are a priority and should be taken seriously. Most importantly, training should be one part of a comprehensive diversity program or it can backfire.

Why did we choose this area?

Once a company has set up a culture and tools, and implemented them, it’s up to employees to make the right decisions for inclusion. They will often need help, and training is one more way to help set expectations, provide guidance, and emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion.

There are cultural issues in tech surrounding diversity and inclusion that are reflected in almost all startups. Employees and managers need to learn how to be inclusive, what the norms are, and how to handle problems. It is not intuitive in tech and requires a sea change. Training is one component of preparing employees for change.

How do we think about training?

Training is one component of a comprehensive program. It should be inclusive and cover more than just women and race, and results should be measured.

We separate training for managers from employees. Managers have a huge influence on their teams and on the cultures of their teams. They are dealing with day-to-day issues, like the conflicts that arise from heterogeneous teams, and they need to set the tone and resolve problems. They deal with hiring, promoting, and firing most directly, and they need to be the standard bearers of the culture, the codes of conduct, and the policies. People leave managers more than organizations, so when managers fail, the effects can be huge. Managers can be the first line of response to problems  —  if trained they may even be able to spot and avoid potential problems before they become conflicts.

What are we concerned about?

Studies show that training alone can actually harm diversity efforts1 and create more bias against underrepresented groups. Many companies seem to be bringing in outside diversity experts and announcing training sessions without sharing more detail on what if any other initiatives they are taking to promote diversity and inclusivity to their teams.

What are our recommendations?

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Train managers

Managers are the number one reason people chose to leave an organization.2 A good manager can help an individual employee not fail; a great manager can drive a team of individuals to richly succeed. Being a great manager doesn’t just happen. It requires diligence, attention, focus, experience, and support from leadership. With the right people in place, a small group of managers can either make or break an organization’s ability to develop their employees and enjoy the rewards that come from a committed, engaged workforce.

As we developed the areas of focus for Project Include, we quickly recognized the power that resides in an organization’s managers, including on diversity and inclusion. Yet even with this power, most managers receive little to no specific training to help them succeed. Even in organizations that explicitly invest in the development of their managers, and by extension all of the people working in the company, diversity and inclusion are difficult topics.

Though it can be challenging, thoughtful and example-grounded manager training is where your inclusion efforts have the best chance to lift the values of the organization as a whole. Diversity and inclusion training benefits all members of an organization who come from nontraditional backgrounds, not just members of underrepresented groups. The best diversity and inclusion training recognizes the myriad ways that we differ from each other, yet come together to accomplish goals  —  both for the organization and for ourselves as individuals.

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Take manager training seriously

Most companies grossly underinvest in manager training, particularly among new managers. This directly leads to ineffective, inconsistent management practices and poor performance of individuals and teams. Unprofessional, ineffective behavior among untrained or unskilled managers can become very expensive, both in clean-up response and talent loss. These behaviors are also far more common than they should be.

Poor management practices within a company don’t just affect its existing employees. They can also directly translate to difficulties hiring talented candidates. This is especially true for organizations that wish to strengthen their ranks by hiring from underrepresented groups. People talk to each other; people share information about “good places to work” and a “bad places to work.” A company’s ability to compete for the best hires can be directly swayed by the company’s reputation as a “good” or “bad” workplace with “good” or “bad” managers.

Manager training should help new and experienced managers alike by providing information on how managing looks in the company, emphasizing diversity and inclusion and its role in company success. For new managers, training should cover how to communicate, including leading a 1:1 meeting and team meetings, and how to provide feedback. All managers should understand which diversity metrics are being measured and how they are held accountable for results. They also need to understand the processes for hiring, reviewing, and promoting employees, and how they are responsible for building an inclusive culture on their teams.

Successful manager training programs are continuous, and they evolve with the company while directly encouraging career growth and development. As part of diversity and inclusion training, the company should provide topic-focused modules and explicit guidance. These give managers the foundation to reinforce the diversity and inclusion goals of the company while supporting their teams. There is no successful “one and done” or “check the box” approach to any manager training. Development and growth are ongoing processes and must be championed as such. To that end, companies should administer surveys at the end of training to determine what’s working, what’s not, and how to adjust their processes.

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Provide ongoing support to managers with open discourse

Outside of organized manager training, companies often fail to provide ongoing assistance or tools to support a diverse team. This may arise from broad organizational inexperience working with people from different backgrounds, a general mistrust of diversity and inclusion efforts, or lack of depth in management experience throughout the company. In practice, this can lead to the uncomfortable experience of the single or few members of underrepresented groups being used as a proxy representing the entire group.

Examples of this can range from neutral to negative and include: expectations that members of underrepresented groups must educate others about their life experiences; implied to explicit expectations that an individual’s opinions are representative of the entirety of a group; being called upon to interview all candidates who are from any underrepresented groups (to shore up the company image around diversity and inclusion); and being alternately expected to speak to the organization as a whole about their underrepresented group while receiving feedback that they are talking about diversity and inclusion issues too frequently.

In a culture that celebrates the idea of meritocracy but falls far short of being one, many companies mistakenly declare that there are no differences in employee or candidate backgrounds and opportunities. Individuals who are not affected by bias may not understand the importance of a diverse employee mix, relying on the false idea that job qualifications on paper are sufficient for making hiring decisions. Unfortunately, this attachment to an ideal that has rarely resulted in equality of opportunity for underrepresented groups is the foundation of a number of logical fallacies that permeate the culture of companies. When this belief backs the basic decisions that managers make as they work to support their teams, those managers make suboptimal choices that exclude team members with divergent backgrounds and experiences.

Leadership must have open and ongoing discourse with managers and non-manager employees about differences in background and experience throughout the organization. These conversations promote openness throughout the company, improve reporting of behavior the organization needs to address, and foster a culture that is shared by all employees.

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Make management a manager’s primary job

A common mistake made by both companies and new managers is rooted in the belief that management is a necessary evil or a distraction from what the organization considers to be “real work.” In practice, developing and growing a company broadly lies on the shoulders of the people you hire as managers and the existing employees who transition into the role. In small, fast-growing companies, it can be especially difficult to appropriately recognize the importance of this responsibility. Companies should strongly discourage the belief that managers are not additive to the organization  —  and root out the causes when that belief takes hold within specific teams. Further, evaluating manager performance should be grounded in how well they enable the success of their teams.

Supporting teams isn’t something managers do “that distracts from their real job.” Developing and growing a company broadly lies on the shoulders of the managers you hire and transition. In a small company in particular, it can be hard to remember the importance of this responsibility. Companies should strongly discourage the belief that managers are not additive to the organization  —  and root out the causes when that belief takes hold within specific teams.

Training should include diversity and inclusion modules that reflect the goals of the organization as a whole, and specific guidance on how to work towards those company goals within their teams. Employees should also be trained on ideal methods of interaction and prohibited conduct as detailed in the employee handbook, the code of conduct, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Employees should also be educated on their legal rights and internal and external reporting options.

Developing these training programs takes effort on the part of the company, because even content provided by experienced consultants must be tailored to suit the goals, norms, and challenges facing the organization. Some areas are governed by federal and state law and may require legal advice. Expect to roll out training in a phased approach, starting with a pilot program that will provide early feedback that can be used to adapt the content appropriately.

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Require annual diversity training for all execs and managers

Diversity and anti-harassment training should be customized for the needs and working realities of a company’s managers, human resources personnel, and employees. It should also reflect core company values and reference internal procedures, mechanisms, and working methods. Training should address concerns raised by employees and their reported experiences of inappropriate conduct.

Executives and managers need to be present to understand their roles in promoting diversity and preventing harassment and discrimination, to show that values and training are a priority to the company, and to comply with the law in many cases. All new managers should also receive training for the same reasons. While laws must be followed, they should be a floor to the behavior expected of employees; in fact trainings that focus on legal compliance have been proven to be less effective and sometimes counterproductive.3

At times, diversity and anti-harassment training can be ineffective because it causes its recipients to become defensive or dismissive. Therefore, trainers must treat the topic seriously, modeling the behaviour they wish to see participants adopt. Avoid casting blame or focusing too much on participant identities. Establish ground rules for discussion and approaches to confidentiality.

Training alone is not enough  —  it must be paired with other programs. Training works best when it is given in conjunction with programs that reflect the principles discussed, connect people to everyday working realities, and promote accountability. To be effective, training must be implemented alongside other more traditionally effective programming. Such programs could include mentoring or sponsorship programs, diversity councils and taskforces, incorporation of diversity goals into performance reviews, and the work of Employee Resource Groups.

25+ employees

Train employees on diversity and inclusion

Traditionally, diversity training has been relied upon as a key tool in creating an inclusive culture. However, it is often implemented with mixed results. If administered improperly, diversity training can be ineffective and even counterproductive. Therefore it is important that organizations seeking to conduct diversity training for their employees do so in a manner that maximizes potential for success.

25+ employees

Make training ongoing, proactive, specific and interactive

An effective training module for managers or for employees should be conducted regularly over time. Ideally, values-based training related to diversity and inclusion would begin as part of the extended onboarding process rather than squeezed in during orientation.

It should address the entirety of policies that employees are expected to adhere to and provide examples which reflect the reality of the working environment of the organization. It should be considered as part of broader employee training and development programming.

Such training should be proactive, not reactive. Diversity training is best utilized as a culture-building tool, rather than implemented in response to employee complaints or an impending lawsuit. However, the latter scenario is more common. Often, companies realize that they need to implement diversity training after a crisis occurs. Studies have shown that in those cases, where diversity training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, it can have a negative effect on management diversity.4 Training should be included as part of the onboarding process for each new hire. It should be given continuously to all staff as part of capacity development programming.

Avoid generalizations and platitudes in diversity training. It should be specific, and generalizing can encourage the very type of stereotyping that training is designed to prevent. Vague statements can also create skepticism among training recipients. Additionally, avoid training people solely on the topic of diversity acceptance. This approach is too conceptual, and it has been proven not to work.5 Instead, train employees on specific approaches to working in an environment where there are a diverse group of individuals. Topics for such trainings could include hiring, promotion, performance review, communication, and mentorship.

Training should be creative and encourage interaction amongst participants with innovative and engaging approaches. Encourage participants to come up with solutions and to participate in company efforts, such as mentorship programs. Smaller group sessions that encourage intimacy and participation are preferable to larger group sessions. Nuanced discussions which explore grey areas, realistic hypotheticals, and company/industry specific topics, are preferable to generic materials or lists of do’s and don’ts.

Resources

While Project Include provides resources as a starting point, we have not made a comprehensive search of all resources and do not necessarily agree with everything in the resources. We share these as helpful references and encourage you to continue exploring.


  1. Bregman, B. (March 12 2012). “Diversity Training Doesn’t Work.” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 2016 from: https://hbr.org/2012/03/diversity-training-doesnt-work

  2. Otani, A. (April 2 2015). “Americans Can’t Stand Their Bosses, and Bosses Admit They’re Phoning it in.” Bloomberg Business News. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-02/americans-can-t-stand-their-bosses-and-bosses-admit-they-re-phoning-it-in.

  3. Dobbin, F., Kelev, A., and Kelly, E. (2007). “Diversity Management in Corporate America.” Contexts 6(4): pp. 21-27. Retrieved April 2016 from: http://scholar.harvard.edu/dobbin/files/2007_contexts_dobbin_kalev_kelly.pdf

  4. Bregman, P. (March 12, 2012). “Diversity Training Doesn’t Work.” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 2016 from: https://hbr.org/2012/03/diversity-training-doesnt-work

  5. Kapor Klein, F. (2007). “Giving Notice: Why the Best and Brightest are Leaving the Workplace and How You Can Help Them Stay.” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass: pp. 106-107.