5 Expert Tips on Starting a Successful DEI Program

🕑 4 minutes read | Aug 03 2021 | By Becky Gendron

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training is essential in companies all across North America. In fact, LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report stated that nearly three-quarters (73%) of executives are currently making these programs a priority.

Given the rising importance of DEI training, TTA’s CEO and President Maria Melfa and Talent Recruitment Manager Jocelyn Allen sat down with Kisha Dixon, one of TTA’s expert learning consultants, to talk about strategies for getting a DEI program started and tips for making it a success. She highlights the following five tips:

5 Tips for a Successful DEI Program

Tip 1 – Assess the Appetite for Change

To get a program implemented, there has to be an appetite for change. Instead of feeling forced, it should feel like an opportunity to build a stronger workplace culture. If there’s a grassroots desire for this kind of program, however small, it’s important to nurture it. A small group and even a single individual can bring about organizational change.

Open up to the organization about the desire to implement a program. Propose bringing in a consultant to do a cultural assessment and gauge the appetite for this conversation. Before implementing a broad strategy, do some preliminary Diversity and Inclusion training exercises within your smaller group.

Tip 2 – Go Slow and Dig Deep

If you want to run a successful Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training program, get ready to run a marathon, not a sprint. When the objective is to cultivate an entirely different way of thinking and communication in the workplace, it’s never an overnight process. There will be stops and starts.

Successful leaders have to be prepared not only to invest time and energy but emotional intelligence. Leaders need to have the self-awareness to initiate and conduct tough conversations. They need to be prepared for the reality that not everyone’s going to enter the conversation with the same perspective.

A “check the box” approach doesn’t work. You can’t just talk about diversity, mark it “done” and move along to the next topic. Organizations that do it right know that lasting culture change takes time. Everyone participates in the training, everyone enters those difficult conversations – from leadership all the way down.

Tip 3 – Align Program Goals with Organizational Values

Diversity and Inclusion training programs teach core values that every strong organization can get behind: treat individuals with respect and appreciate their differences. An organization might already implicitly assert these values, but a successful program makes them explicit and ensures they’re being practiced. Supporting difference, showing respect, having empathy, being courteous to one another, and being active listeners – these are essential interpersonal relations for any workplace. When these values are a discernible part of workplace culture, people feel safe to be themselves. Ideally, in the future, with these kinds of values in place, Diversity and Inclusion training will no longer be necessary. Appreciating differences and respecting each other will be an ordinary part of how people engage.

Tip 4 – Focus on the Future

Successful workshops avoid finger-pointing and don’t play the blame game. No participant can reverse things done 400 years ago, four days ago, or five minutes ago. The focus needs to be on choices people make going forward. When participants understand that this isn’t a history seminar, but a workshop that focuses on self-development, people feel less isolated, lower their defenses and relax their boundaries. Things go so much better when you give people the choice to care. They need to know they’re an essential part of what makes inclusiveness happen.

Tip 5 – Recognizing Biases Sets the Tone for Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a journey and people need to begin with a foundation that recognizes the biases we unconsciously or implicitly carry around with us every day. The only way to recognize, challenge, and change these views is through exposure or proximity to other experiences.

For example, TTA’s virtual training workshop “Got Bias: How to Develop a Mindset of Inclusion in the Workplace” does this in a candid, friendly, and respectful way. It takes a deep dive into what influences us, where we get our ideas, and why we hold on to them. A great place to start is with neutral examples, such as foods people dislike. When participants drill down deeper and see how their biases influence their interactions with people, there are major “a-ha” moments. It can be a big surprise to realize you cling to ideas in ways that don’t make a lot of sense.

Diversity and Inclusion training gives employees the opportunity to talk to people and to engage with people. It demonstrates that we can’t know the truth until we invite others to share their experiences with us.

Diversity Makes Better Leaders

A community of belonging in the workplace emerges when people are given a voice, are seen and empowered to be their authentic selves. To ensure your Diversity and Inclusion training program lays the groundwork for success, make sure there’s grassroots interest, commit to the long-term, align your goals with organizational values, and commit to inclusiveness that pushes forward, not backward. Recognizing biases and learning what makes people different is what makes workplace environments inclusive. And by helping people make people-centered decisions, it makes better leaders.


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