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Diversity Training

by David Khan on 12/31/2003
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In the last three years, employers have become much more concerned about the impact of culture on their workforce. Prior to that date, most diversity initiatives were driven by a need to reduce liability. To avoid discrimination complaints, most diversity initiatives comprised of hiring multi-ethnic workers or simply reminding employees not to tell racially biased jokes. In addition, many companies only provided diversity training as a means of developing an affirmative defense against discrimination complaints.

While executives used to view diversity training solely as a means of preventing discrimination and harassment charges, it is now regarded as an essential key in an ever-competitive market. Diversity training has been shown to contribute to the overall profitability and success of a company. This finding is one of the reasons that budgets for diversity training have increased dramatically.

Today, the majority of diversity training is primarily focused on helping businesses understand people's differences so they can work together as a team. Companies are seeing the benefits that a multicultural workforce provides - increased productivity, language skills, global perspective, negotiation skills, new ideas, creative solutions to problems - and are proactively seeking out people from diverse cultures to help them survive in the wake of increasingly challenging competition.

Workplace diversity programs are in place in about 70% of large organizations (5,000 or more employees) and in 25% of mid-size organizations (under 5,000 employees). Almost all diversity programs (94%) address race, while others targets gender (90%), disability (77%), age (73%), sexual orientation (58%), and work/life issues (48%).

An incident of some sort usually sparks the implementation of a diversity initiative. For some, it was the terrorist attacks of September 11th that prompted organizations to consider diversity training. For others, a lawsuit may be the catalyst for diversity training and the development of anti-harassment policies.

Consider the following when designing and implementing diversity training programs:

Obtain management support. Workers and organizations focus on what their leaders focus on. Therefore, for any diversity initiative to succeed, it must first receive the enthusiastic support and involvement of the company's CEO and top management team. This should not be difficult as efficient diversity training programs inherently make good bottom-line sense and position the organization to compete more effectively.

Conduct a needs assessment. A needs assessment tailors diversity training programs to meet specifically identified needs and optimize results. It also helps in creating buy-in by giving employees a chance to contribute to the content.

Embed into the overall framework. Diversity issues need to be addressed as part of the company's transformation initiatives and as an embedded component of recruitment, development, and training. In addition, diversity training should be one of several initiatives to underscore corporate values and ethics, including mission and vision, and should be factored into reward and recognition systems and policies.

Design transformational programs. Every diversity program needs to convey information about specific policies and initiatives an organization has in place or is about to implement. The programs need to be transformational in design and content, bringing employees of differing backgrounds together to create synergy, trust, and greater workplace understanding and cooperation. Transformational topics include why workforce diversity is critical to achieving business goals, the nature of workplace prejudice, the power of language in shaping perceptions, and how misconceptions can adversely affect productivity, morale, team unity, and organizational performance.

Use various methods and media. Role-play, storytelling, small-group discussions, videos, and simulations can all be incorporated into the design of diversity training. Diversity trainers should also look into web-based programs that use interactive activities and assessments to reinforce concepts.

Proactive, not reactive, planning is a surefire way for your company to get ahead. If you do not have a diversity program, what are you waiting for?

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Categories: 2004, Human Resources

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