As we developed the areas of focus for Project Include, we quickly recognized the influence that resides within an organization’s managers, including on diversity and inclusion. Yet, even understanding this power, most companies have little to no specific training to help managers 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. D&I training benefits all members of an organization from nontraditional backgrounds, not just members of underrepresented groups. The best D&I 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.
What are our recommendations
Take manager training seriously
Most companies grossly underinvest in manager training, particularly among new managers. This underinvestment 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 affect more than just its existing employees. They can also directly make hiring talented candidates more difficult, especially for organizations that wish to hire from underrepresented groups. People talk to each other; they share information about “good places to work” and “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 what managing looks like in the company, emphasizing diversity and inclusion and their role in company success. For new managers, training should cover how to communicate, including leading a 1:1 meeting and team meetings; how to have hard conversations; and how to provide ongoing 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 D&I training, you should provide topic-focused modules and explicit guidance to give managers the foundation to reinforce the the company’s D&I goals while supporting their teams. There is no successful “one and done” or “check the box” approach to manager training. Development and growth are ongoing processes and must be designed 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.
Provide ongoing support to managers with open discourse
Outside of organized manager training, companies often fail to provide ongoing assistance and tools to support a diverse team. This failure may arise from broad organizational inexperience working with people from different backgrounds, a general mistrust of D&I 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 D&I issues too frequently.
In a tech 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.