Diversity and Inclusion in Training: Why Does It Matter?
The e-Learning module on my screen has been pretty engaging so far, but there is something a bit alien about it for me, though I am not sure why. Later in the day, as I glance at an advertisement for a dental clinic featuring an ideal Caucasian family – a happy mom and dad with a dog and 2 kids in a beautiful house – it strikes me that, although I am in India, our advertisements and media show a preference for light-skinned people. That is when I realized that the majority of the training modules I have seen primarily feature people with light skin or who are Caucasian!
I create training materials and have been guilty of not having thought of inclusivity when developing them in the past. For example, I used to (unconsciously, almost on autopilot) look for images of light-skinned people for my training courses until I was sensitized to this tendency and realized it was acceptable– and even necessary – to make the courses sound and look diverse.
Is there a difference between “diversity” and “inclusion”?
Yes! While the terms “Diversity” and “Inclusion” may roll off the tongue easily, it is important to understand the nuanced differences between the 2 words. Bill Crawford says “Diversity, or the state of being different, isn’t the same as inclusion. One is a description of what is, while the other describes a style of interaction essential to effective teams and organizations.”1 To summarize, “diversity” describes people while “inclusion” values them.
An inclusive workplace values people and is more profitable
Employees who feel valued make for a more profitable organization. Research by Deloitte has found that diverse companies generate 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee. According to Gartner, inclusive teams improve team performance by up to 30 percent in high-diversity environments2. This is not hard to imagine as a diverse environment tends to be a breeding ground for more innovative thought, increased creativity, stronger governance, and better problem-solving abilities. Employees with diverse backgrounds will bring different perspectives, ideas, and experiences to the table as well as help keep each other’s inherent biases in check.
Is it not natural then for any training material to reflect this diversity and, indeed, honor it?
Training that is inclusive will be more relatable to employees who will respond to it at an emotional level, thereby increasing the chances of learning uptake. The training will be truly relatable and, therefore, engaging; it will be personal. Inclusive training materials also have the ability to create space for more open and real conversations at the workplace that instill more trust in the organization and thus, employees who are satisfied with their overall work and environment.
How do we make training inclusive?
The simplest way to make training inclusive is to remember the core of any training or teaching design – the people!
While this might sound simple enough, creating training that is inclusive also involves being actively aware of our own prejudices that are usually learned stereotypes due to conditioning. We may be guilty of agism, racism, beauty bias, or gender bias in our lives, which will reflect in the training we create. Most of us are inclined to only think of gender or racial diversity while creating inclusive training. However, in today’s world, we also need to consider people with special needs, different sexual orientations, nontraditional family setups, or nonbinary people. In a recent training on parental leave policy that I helped create, it was refreshing to see the content seamlessly include same-sex couples, other nontraditional family setups, and parents of all gender identities.
Hence, to be inclusive is to not just be cognitively aware of the diversity around us but to also be emotionally aware of it – that is, to be able to empathize with the other person and understand how they might feel while being discriminated against.
The following are some key ways for making training materials inclusive:
- Cultivating a deep understanding of the audience and their culture
- Using technology appropriately to make training inclusive. For example, creating accessible training for people with disabilities
- Using different formats to present information to multilingual learners or accommodating learners with varying learning styles
- Actively seeking input from diverse populations when designing training materials
- Being aware of one’s own unconscious biases
- Appreciating innovative ideas
- Including diverse multimedia elements into training materials such as photos, videos, and graphics that are interactive, different, and inclusive
- Avoiding tokenism in inclusivity such as limiting inclusive measures to only using images of people of different ethnicities in the training materials
Corporate training on diversity and inclusion can help sensitize employees to these concepts as well and empower them to create more meaningfully inclusive training materials.
As for me, it is now second nature to think of inclusivity while creating impactful training deliverables for our clients, a sentiment that is also echoed by our clients. By addressing our unconscious biases, we can create a more true-to-life learning experience. Allowing everyone to see themselves represented in even these small ways creates a feeling of belonging and of being equally valued. Remember – not everyone is the same, but all have to be included!