Training is important for building culture. Being diverse and inclusive is not part of tech industry culture and requires a fundamental shift in behavior. Employees need training to learn how to be inclusive, what the norms are, and how to handle problems. Managers and executives should be trained as well, and they should also participate in training others to show training and inclusion are a priority and should be taken seriously. Training works best when it is tailored to reflect company culture and values, connect people to everyday working realities, and promote accountability.

Training alone is not enough to change behavior. In fact, studies show standalone bias training can actually harm diversity efforts 1 and create more bias against underrepresented groups. Training is most effective as one of many programs for changing behavior. Such initiatives could include sponsorship programs, diversity councils and taskforces, incorporation of diversity goals into performance reviews, and the work of Employee Resource Groups.

Have additional training for managers. Manager training should cover the added and different responsibilities of a manager.

They are directly responsible for hiring, promoting, and firing, and they need to understand how to be the standard bearers of culture, codes of conduct, and policies for their teams. Managers have a huge influence on people and culture. They are the ones who deal with day-to-day issues, like interpersonal conflicts between employees, and they need to set the tone and expectations.

People leave managers more than organizations, so when managers fail, the effects can be huge. Managers can also be the first line of response to problems  —  if trained they may even be able to spot and address potential problems before they become conflicts.

Training should be fully inclusive and use metrics. Tracking can be done through surveys on training and analysis of changes in behavior and attitudes over time, as for example through tracking reports of code of conduct violations and their outcomes.

What are our recommendations

Make training ongoing, proactive, specific, and interactive

Training needs to be done properly to have a positive effect. It should be ongoing — not just a one-time onboarding event — for managers and employees. Ideally, values-based training on diversity and inclusion would start as part of the extended onboarding process rather than being squeezed in during orientation. The company should establish its values from the start with new employees, rather than treating them as an afterthought.

All staff should be trained at least once a year. Training should be proactive for building culture, not reactive to employee complaints or an impending lawsuit. Often, companies only realize that they need to implement diversity training after a crisis occurs, when the training may have prevented it. Studies have shown that when diversity training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, it can actually have a negative effect on management diversity. 2

Diversity training should be specific; 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 accepting diversity. This approach is too conceptual, and studies show it doesn’t work. 3

Instead, train employees on specific approaches to working in an environment with diverse teams. Topics for such trainings could include hiring, promotion, performance review, communication, and mentorship. Employees from underrepresented groups should be told about resources and support. Working through specific situations can help make the training more effective, as employees understand the real-world applications of ideas and values and are more engaged in the training. As each company is unique, nuanced discussions to explore grey areas, realistic hypotheticals, and company/industry-specific topics will provide better guidance than generic materials or lists of do’s and don’ts.

The diversity and inclusion training modules should reflect overall company goals around diversity and inclusion, and tell employees how to work towards those goals within their teams. All employees should also be trained on ideal methods of interaction and prohibited conduct as detailed in the employee handbook, the code of conduct, and the anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. They should also be educated on their legal rights and internal and external reporting options.

Training should be creative and encourage interaction among participants with innovative and engaging approaches. Encourage participants to come up with solutions and to participate in company efforts, such as mentorship programs. Smaller groups that encourage intimacy and participation are preferable to larger group sessions.

Diversity and anti-harassment training should be customized for the needs and working realities of a company’s managers, HR personnel, and employees. It should also reflect company values and reference internal procedures, mechanisms, and working methods. Training should address concerns raised by employees and their reported experiences of inappropriate conduct. In training, avoid casting blame or focusing on participants from underrepresented groups, as this can make people feel singled out and uncomfortable.

Trainers should establish ground rules for discussion and approaches to confidentiality. They need to approach diversity and inclusion respectfully and thoughtfully, not treat it as a checkbox term; if they don’t take it seriously, trainees won’t either.

Train managers

Managers are the number one reason people choose to leave an organization. 4 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.

Developing training programs takes effort on the part of the company, because even content provided by experienced consultants must be tailored to suit the specific goals, norms, and challenges of your startup. Some areas are governed by federal and state law and may require legal advice. You probably will not get it right the first time. Expect to roll out training in a phased approach, starting with a pilot program that will provide early feedback to be used to adapt the content appropriately.

Training doesn’t have an endpoint. Always seek opportunities to provide additional training and support to your managers. This makes them feel valued, and ensures that everyone at the company follows your most up-to-date procedures and practices to enforce company values.

A common mistake made by both companies and new managers is 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 people you hire as managers and the existing employees who transition into the role.

In small, fast-growing companies, recognizing the importance of this responsibility can be especially difficult. Companies should make that importance clear, and 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.

Require annual diversity training

All executives and managers need to participate in training 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 some cases. All new managers should also receive training for the same reasons. However, training focused on rote legal compliance with antidiscrimination laws has been proven to be less effective and sometimes counterproductive. 5 Instead, view the law as a starting point for discussions about behavioral expectations — this is about company values, not checking off the “mandatory anti-harassment training” box.

Don’t make the common mistake of relying only on diversity training as a silver bullet for solving your diversity and inclusion problems. At times, diversity and anti-harassment training can be ineffective when its recipients become defensive or dismissive.


We share these helpful references as starting points and encourage you to continue exploring.

  1. Bregman, B. (March 12 2012). “Diversity Training Doesn’t Work.” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 2016 from: 

  2. Dobbin, F., Kelev, A., and Kelly, E. (2007). “Diversity Management in Corporate America.” Contexts 6(4): pp. 21-27. Retrieved April 2016 from: 

  3. 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. 

  4. 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: 

  5. Dobbin, F., Kelev, A., and Kelly, E. (2007). “Diversity Management in Corporate America.” Contexts 6(4): pp. 21-27. Retrieved April 2016 from: