If you don’t want a more equitable and inclusive work environment, you’re not a good person. Period. Full stop.
Can we train our way out of a labor system that has a history of putting certain groups ahead of others, a history that spans from the very beginning of this country with slavery until present day when women make 82 cents for every dollar that a man makes and when combined, African Americans and Hispanics make up only 9% of the workforce in the top 75 tech companies in Silicon Valley (though they make up 31% of the overall US population)?
Training alone certainly isn’t the answer. There are systemic issues at play that go way beyond training. Training, however, is an essential piece to improving problems such as the disproportionate representation of white men in key roles, the pay gap that white men enjoy, the high rates of unemployment and underemployment in communities of color and the existence of misplaced ignorance demonstrated by many, but most recently embodied in a high profile way in the rubbish written by the Google Bro.
Earlier this week I was talking with a high ranking woman in the tech industry and I asked her what she felt was the biggest problem with diversity initiatives.
“What’s the problem? Everyone tries to get it perfect because it’s such a touchy subject. The biggest problem is that nobody wants progress over perfection. Diversity initiatives are now being created very similarly to the perfect seating chart at a wedding.”
A more equitable workplace isn’t a checkbox for legal or the HR department or training staff. It’s real life. It’s messy. It’s uncomfortable. Any diversity initiative probably should reflect these realities, but so few do.
Ok smart guy, you’re doing a lot of criticizing… what’s the answer?
The liberating thing is that there’s no such thing as a perfect diversity training or initiative. An effective diversity initiative (which is different than diversity training), however, can make the workplace more perfect. Here are five elements that any workplace diversity initiative should have:
1. Clear outcomes.
The program will look different if it’s simply a box to check, if it’s being rolled out in order to satisfy an EEOC settlement or if it’s actually designed to shift the way individuals and the organization as a whole operates. Two years ago Facebook received a lot of media attention for it’s new anti-bias training. When I caught a glimpse of it, it seemed to me to be more of a box to check than an actual initiative designed to move the needle somewhere. By contrast, organizations that have implemented Casey Family Programs’ Knowing Who You Are training have found significant changes in the attitudes of attendees.
I don’t know what kinds of things Google includes in their diversity programs, but the Google Bro complained about being told what he can and can’t say. This is a touchy subject, and when participants are too concerned about the need to be “politically correct” (whatever that actually means), then the conversations can’t be real. Clearly established ground rules and developing rapport among participants is essential in order to create an environment of safety, respect and willing participation. Speaking of which…
One of my biggest critiques of most traditional training is the lack of opportunity for everyone to participate. Even when there are large group discussions, it’s easy for many participants’ voices to be lost. A combination of individual reflections (this topic, out of any, needs processing time and different people will process at different speeds), small group conversations and large group activities with a skilled facilitator (or better yet, team of facilitators) prepared to engage different opinions and diffuse tense conversations are must-have elements.
People bring their own ideas and experiences into these conversations. Every diversity initiative needs to be rooted in data and facts.
Actionable next steps.
At the end of the day (or days or weeks or months), what’s supposed to happen – both for individuals and for the organization? While there should be clear outcomes planned from the beginning, individuals and the organization need to be open to whatever may come up during the initiative. Once a training has concluded, the problem isn’t magically solved. Serious change management needs to be embedded in order for anything to take hold. What comes next is at least as important as getting started in the first place.
Looking to dig further into this topic? Here are a few resources to begin with:
- “Dear White Boss…“ This article, first published in the Harvard Business Review in November 2002, is what the editors describe as “required reading for white executives.”
- Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria: And other conversations about race. This book, written by Beverly Daniel Tatum, is the best “intro”-level book I’ve read in order to get a better understanding around the fact that we don’t live on an even playing field.
- True Colors. This is a 17-minute segment from a 20/20 investigation that first aired in 1991. Though it’s now 26 years old, it’s no less jarring to watch today than when it was filmed.