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What you need to know about diversity and inclusion training

Last updated

26 July 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Well-delivered diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training can benefit all organizations. It encourages everyone to respect each other and appreciate the differences of their colleagues. 

People from different backgrounds bring unique ideas and perspectives, inspiring better solutions and more creativity. Included and valued employees tend to be happier and more motivated, which helps the company succeed.

Every organization will have employees with diverse backgrounds, identities, ages, abilities, and experiences working together. 

Strategic and ongoing diversity and inclusion training can ensure that employees and the organization embrace these differences to reap the benefits. 

This training helps companies create a positive and supportive environment where everyone can thrive. Let’s learn why it’s important and how to make diversity and inclusion training fun.

What is diversity and inclusion training?

Diversity and inclusion training teaches people the importance of accepting and respecting everyone, no matter how they look, their age, where they come from, or what they believe. 

It’s also known as diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) training. 

DEI training allows participants to embrace the benefits of being different and how to work well together within those differences.

In typical diversity training, employees learn: 

  • About different cultures, backgrounds, generations, and perspectives

  • To respect hidden differences like religion, socioeconomic background, or disability

  • How to work together and make everyone feel included, valued, and appreciated

Finally, they learn how to avoid potentially problematic behaviors like:

  • Microaggressions: Insensitive statements, questions, or behaviors that may intentionally or unintentionally show hostility toward traditionally marginalized groups

  • Unconscious bias: Stereotypes about different groups that can negatively affect associations, feelings, or behaviors toward that group

Learning to avoid these stereotypes and behaviors can form the baseline toward embracing the differences of others and working together for everyone's benefit.

The goals of diversity training

Diversity and inclusion training helps employees create a fair and equal environment where everyone can feel comfortable being themselves. 

For a business, the training has three essential goals:

Increase awareness

First, it needs to increase awareness and understanding of different cultures, backgrounds, identities, and perspectives. Learning about these differences helps employees develop empathy and respect for one another, improving working relationships. 

Reduce bias

Second, the training should focus on reducing bias and stereotypes. It can help employees recognize their biases and teach them how to treat everyone fairly and equally across every level of the organization.

Embrace inclusivity 

Lastly, diversity and inclusion training should aim to create an inclusive work environment and a culture of belonging where everyone feels welcome and valued. 

It can teach employees how to collaborate and appreciate each person's unique contributions to the team. 

According to Deloitte, creating an inclusive culture by reaching these goals improves team performance, decision-making qualities, and collaboration. These ultimately help to achieve other goals, like financial targets and business outcomes.

4 benefits of successful diversity training

Companies and employees that embrace diversity and inclusion training can benefit from it with a surprisingly comprehensive and measurable array of outcomes.

1. Reduce employee bias

We're all susceptible to stereotypes as quick, mental shortcuts on topics we don't know much about. It's why recruiters across industries are more likely to hire new talent like them.

Diversity training actively fights these biases. 

It reduces the need and basis for conscious or unconscious stereotypes driving thoughts and behaviors by helping employees better understand the nuances of differences.

2. Foster collaboration

Being more open and accepting of others’ backgrounds and experiences allows employees to more readily accept their viewpoints as equally valid. As a result, teams can work together better. They may even become more proactive in wanting to work with others.

This collaboration can also lead to better business outcomes. A case study on investment strategies from the Harvard Business Review stated:

“Projects selected by both homogeneous and diverse sets of investment partners were equally promising at the time the decision to invest was made. Differences in decision quality and performance came later...Thriving in a highly uncertain competitive environment requires creative thinking, and the diverse collaborators were better equipped to deliver it.”

3. Improve employee morale

Employees who feel equal and included also tend to become more invested in that organization. 

According to Deloitte, 83% of millennials feel engaged when they believe their employer prioritizes diversity, compared to just 60% of millennials who feel engaged when that is not the case. 

Research continues to show that employees at diverse organizations are happier and healthier. Some even suggest a link between prioritizing diversity and increasing organizational profitability. 

With training having a tangible effect on employee morale, it's easy to see that connection.

4. Increase innovation

Finally, successful diversity training has a real impact on organizational innovation. 

For example, a Boston Consulting Group survey of 1,700 companies showed that companies with above-average diversity scores were 19% more innovative than their counterparts. 

This follows a 2015 study that showed inclusive companies to be 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders.

Given the above benefits, those research findings make intuitive sense. 

Willing and successful collaboration leads to input from more sources, covering a broader spectrum of ideas. 

And improved employee morale leads to more motivation to seek and implement these ideas, fostering innovation at every level of the organization.

Who should participate in diversity training?

Diversity and inclusion training is beneficial for all employees in an organization, regardless of their position or level. 

Everyone has a role in creating an equitable environment, from executives to frontline employees. Their training participation aligns everyone's efforts toward this shared goal.

Participation across all levels signals diversity and inclusion as a strategic organizational priority that doesn't only apply to frontline employees. 

If everyone participates regardless of their background, it puts all employees on equal footing without suggesting diversity training is punitive.

The four types of diversity in the workplace

Successful diversity training has to be comprehensive, so it doesn't just address a single group like race or gender. 

Instead, it focuses on the four core types of diversity encountered in the workplace: Demographic, experiential, cognitive, and cultural.

Demographic diversity

Demographic diversity segments larger populations into smaller groups, and it includes:

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Sexual preference

  • Socioeconomic class

  • Education level

  • Religion

  • Ethnicity

  • Race

  • Nation of origin

This type of diversity tends to be clearly defined. Demographic diversity training emphasizes commonalities across demographics and how differences can shape our values and viewpoints.

Experiential diversity

Experiential diversity describes our emotional differences based on our lives to date. 

As the Harvard Business Review puts it, it is "based on life experiences that shape our emotional universe. Affinity bonds us to people with whom we share some of our likes and dislikes, building emotional communities."

Training in this area might include understanding how life experiences shape worldviews. It also teaches participants to see different worldviews from the experiences they're based on. 

Participants also learn to embrace those differences for greater collaboration and innovative thinking.

Cognitive diversity

Cognitive diversity focuses on how people think, process information, and make decisions. Some people are visual thinkers, while others might need to write things down. 

This type of diversity training helps participants learn about these cognitive differences and how to embrace them for better teamwork and outcomes.

Cultural diversity

Cultural diversity homes in on how our cultural upbringing shapes the way we think, take in the world, and act. Demographic or experiential diversity often influences our behaviors. 

It can be a broad category, like the differences between European and Southern American cultures. It can also be narrow and focus on things like the fast pace of New York City compared to rural Texas life.

Diversity training around cultural differences seeks to define cultural differences and their origins. The goal is to create a broader understanding of the culture so more nuanced knowledge replace cultural stereotypes. 

Like all diversity training, it helps participants embrace these differences as beneficial for everyone involved.

7 common types of workplace diversity training 

You need more than just a single type of diversity training to build a truly equitable culture. 

These seven types are common, but you might have other training options to reduce biases, encourage inclusivity, and enhance your organizational culture

1. Awareness-based training

Awareness training tends to be foundational as it helps participants understand different backgrounds and experiences and how those differences might influence the people around them. It could include awareness of any of the diversity types described above.

Awareness-based training specifically addresses unconscious bias. 

On a broader level, it helps everyone understand the importance of respecting and valuing each other. It also focuses on seeing differences as a benefit rather than something to fear.

2. Skills-based training

Skills-based training builds on awareness training by helping participants develop the skills they need to work with colleagues from other backgrounds. 

It includes learning how to speak with others and other practical skills to help them treat each other respectfully and reduce microaggressions.

3. Common ground training

In common ground training, participants identify their similarities and shared values. 

This training aims to build an understanding that everybody has commonalities they can build around, despite all their differences. 

Employees become more aligned and can more easily work together.

4. Facilitated conversation training

Diversity and inclusion efforts are better when employees from underrepresented groups speak up to share their thoughts or concerns. 

Facilitated conversation training helps these employees find ways to express themselves while training those receiving the feedback to respond productively. 

This approach also encourages further open discussions down the road.

5. Accommodation training

Part of building an inclusive workplace is ensuring the right accommodations are in place. 

Accommodation training helps identify those needs, including environmental, physical, and religious needs. 

It's a space for employees needing accommodations to advocate for themselves and their needs without fear of repercussion or judgment.

6. Unconscious bias training

Unconscious bias training helps participants identify the subtle stereotypes they carry that might unknowingly affect their interactions with diverse colleagues. 

The goal is to stop unknowingly oppressive behavior, which can be harder to address than conscious bias.

7. Inclusive management training

Inclusive management training targets organizational leaders. It ensures supervisors avoid oppressive and discriminatory behaviors with their teams. 

If management receives the right diversity training, the hope is a trickle-down effect from their team's subcultures into the larger organizational culture.

Non-training types of diversity and inclusion support

In addition to formal training, companies can also institute other types of ongoing support to address concerns and build a more inclusive culture, including:

  • Employee resource and network groups that can advocate on behalf of anyone facing prejudice or subtle aggressions

  • Mentoring programs in which the mentor can act as a sounding board or problem solver, provide advice, and teach mentees new skills

5 steps to start a diversity and inclusion training program

Understanding the benefits and types of diversity training can only get you so far. 

Let’s get tactical in creating a training program that nurtures a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture.

1. Start with a temperature check

Employee surveys can give you a basic idea of your organization's visible and invisible diversity. It also helps you understand the attitude toward DEI in general and the current culture and climate. That indicates where to focus your diversity training.

2. Identify diversity gaps

Next, it's time to analyze the survey results. Your employees' current attitudes and feelings about your organizational culture can help you understand potential gaps that training could address. 

You can formalize this process by using the seven pillars of inclusion as a benchmark for how your employees feel supported.

The pillars are:

  1. Access – ranging from the accessibility of your open position applications to the physical access to your buildings

  2. Attitude – focusing on the willingness of the organization and its employees to prioritize diversity and treat everyone equally

  3. Choice – allowing diverse employees to choose the best way to get their work done and use your facilities depending on their background, identity, and experiences

  4. Partnership – emphasizing an inclusive workplace culture that welcomes new employees and encourages active teamwork

  5. Communication – including verbal and nonverbal communication practices that allow everyone's voice to be heard across organizational levels

  6. Policy – focusing on the formal measures that protect employees from harassment and stereotypes while providing paths to rectify injustices based on diverse backgrounds

  7. Opportunity – ensuring equal opportunity to participate and positive work experiences for all employees

3. Tie DEI initiatives to business goals

The benefits of diversity and inclusion training can profoundly impact business performance. The more clearly you can tie your diversity initiatives—and particularly your training program—to larger business objectives, the more engaged all employees will be to participate. It also encourages stakeholder support.

4. Establish training benchmarks

As with any business initiative, tracking definable goals within the training program helps you show its effectiveness over time. 

Collect feedback from your participants on the effectiveness, and periodically survey your employees on the overall work culture to see the training’s impact on their perceptions.

5. Create accessible and flexible training options

Whether you work with a distributed or in-person workforce, flexible training options almost always increase participation. 

Offering your training online and in asynchronous formats makes it easier to fit it into the typical workday while also making it more accessible for employees with disabilities.

6 tips for a more successful diversity training program

Simply starting a diversity and inclusion training program doesn't guarantee its success. 

These tips can help you avoid common pitfalls and ensure the time all parties invest in organizing and participating in the program is well-spent.

1. Lead from the top

The more organizational leadership can become involved in training, the better. Leading by example demonstrates inclusivity is an organizational priority and indicates that supervisors and leaders will value employee participation.  

2. Tailor the training to your organization

There is no single "best" diversity and inclusion training template. Instead, what works best depends on your specific organization, its workforce, and its challenges. 

The level of conflicts and issues employees face and the organizational culture in a given company has to inform the types of training you offer and how you'll structure that training.  

3. Include workers at all levels

Diversity training cannot only apply to some groups or employees within your organization. In addition to leadership and supervising embracing the training, it's also vital for members of all demographic groups to participate. 

Workplace culture won't improve if only some people receive the training, and addressing only some topics or some types of diversity might spark resentment.

4. Take an integrated approach

Avoid lecture-based training modules that only focus on vocabulary, definitions, and what to do. Variety is vital to keep participants engaged and help the information sink in. Discussions, exercises, and role-playing games can all help. 

The more actively employees participate, the more likely they'll understand and internalize the materials. 

5. Consider hiring an expert

Diversity training differs from other types of onboarding and professional development in complexity and sensitivity. 

If you don't have an internal expert, consider looking outside the organization for diversity and training expertise. This also prevents the potential conflict of interest of someone conducting the training that needs it themselves. 

6. Create an ongoing diversity training program

Don't approach diversity training as a one-time program that only new hires need to complete. 

The best training programs are ongoing, going beyond basic policies and procedures to change attitudes and overcome biases. That doesn't happen at once, so it’s vital to reinforce the message through periodic training.

Reinforcing diversity and inclusion in the workplace beyond formal training

Managers can course-correct employees when they observe behaviors or attitudes inconsistent with an inclusive work environment. 

In addition to formal training and managerial oversight, other events can also reinforce diversity and inclusion in your organization:

  • Cultural events and parties can celebrate diverse groups.

  • Guest speakers from various backgrounds

  • Lunch and learns

  • Celebrating multicultural holidays

Invite diversity-focused guest speakers

Consider engaging guest speakers who can speak on diversity-related topics from their perspectives and backgrounds. 

They might address topics like: 

  • Disability awareness

  • Racial equality

  • Gender representation

  • LGBTQ+ rights

  • Mental health challenges

  • Military experiences

  • Experiences of older workers in the typical workplace

The right guest speaker can significantly impact your employees and their views. 

Inspirational stories can effectively convey the message, especially from an outside voice with personal experiences with the topic at hand.

Host periodic lunch and learns

Periodic potluck or brown bag lunch parties can get your team together and share their food culture with their colleagues. Alternatively, you can host a catered lunch with a similar goal. 

While everyone enjoys the food, they can learn about the culture and history that shaped it and how it connects to its broader cultural context today.

Acknowledge multicultural history months

Nearly every month is dedicated to the awareness of specific heritage and cultural contributions of diverse groups, often to recognize underrepresented groups. Examples include:

  • Black History

  • Women's History

  • Arab American history

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer pride

  • Asian Pacific Americans

  • Jewish American history

  • Hispanic American history

  • National Disability Employment Awareness Month

  • Native American history

  • Veteran's Day

Celebrating these events can signal your organization's support for these groups. 

Ask employees for ideas on recognizing these months, and work with them on the celebration. Executing these ideas should be a collective effort.

Celebrate multicultural holidays

Like multicultural history months, celebrating multicultural holidays will foster inclusion. 

It also teaches employees who aren’t celebrating these holidays about their principles and importance to others. 

For example, you can:

  • Acknowledge Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah by decorating and offering different cultural foods at parties

  • Recognize the Arab American holiday Ramadan, which is celebrated from March to April

  • Recognize Día de los Muertos, which occurs from October 31st to November 2nd

  • Celebrate Veterans Day to acknowledge employees who served in the US military

Let your organization's diverse make-up drive these celebrations. 

At its best, active participation can signal to employees belonging to minority groups that their colleagues recognize and value their culture.

Get started with diversity training that benefits every employee—and your business

It's time to leverage the benefits of diversity and inclusion training for your organization. 

Taking the time to do it well can transform your organizational culture, make all employees feel valued, and drive core business outcomes. 

With a basic understanding of principles, benefits, and tips out of the way, get started on creating a training program that impacts every level of your business.


What companies are focused on diversity?

Companies of all sizes and across industries can benefit from prioritizing diversity through the right training and hiring practices, but some stand apart as exceptional. 

A Statista Survey of 60,000 employees across industries named these organizations the top employers for diversity in 2022:

  1. Progressive

  2. VMWare

  3. Booz Allen Hamilton

  4. Cummins

  5. Interpublic Group

  6. Adobe

  7. SAS Institute

  8. Clorox

  9. TD Bank

  10. Quicken Loans

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