by Tiffany Delmore GUEST WRITER Co-founder of SchoolSafe
Companies pour billions of dollars into training every year, but are they training in the right areas? Recent figures put the size of the workplace-training market in the U.S. at nearly $170 billion, with expenditures in that market topping $80 billion. Many businesses focus on training for areas with transparent bottom-line implications, such as sales and customer service. Some leaders view soft-skills training as unnecessary; when regulations require diversity training, many companies treat the events as checkbox fulfillment instead of as the value-adding investments they are.
In truth, diversity training may be even more important than skills-based training for company success. The world is a diverse place. When teams work well together, they can accomplish much more than any of their individual members could alone. Even superstar employees in the top 1 percent of productivity create net losses when they bring a toxic attitude to the office.
With the increasing popularity of remote work, today’s employees increasingly find themselves working alongside people from different groups with different belief systems, perspectives and values. Diversity training can help workers and leaders fill the gaps in their interpersonal skills. With a solid foundation of knowledge and practice, even people from insular communities can overcome their unfamiliarity and learn to work with others from all walks of life.
Consider the many advantages of treating diversity training as an investment instead of a requirement.
Young employees want to work at companies with diverse workforces. This makes sense, given that Generation Z is the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in the country. Combine their demographic makeup with their lifelong access to communication with cultures around the world, and Gen Z has every reason to expect diversity at work.
For employers, this means the best and brightest young workers will be a diverse group with expectations of inclusivity, respect and tolerance. Companies that fail to meet that benchmark will struggle to retain young talent, while companies that embrace diversity training and address their inherent biases will attract the stars of tomorrow.
Homogenous teams don’t have the breadth of knowledge, skills or experiences to compete with diverse teams. People who bring new perspectives to the table open up new possibilities for their employers. Diversity training helps ensure that the people on these teams understand how to work together without crossing boundaries or offering unintended insults.
Diversity doesn’t just impact internal teams, though. “Leaders can’t just hire a diverse team and call it a day,” says Tracey Grace, CEO and founder of IBEX IT Business Experts. “Diverse teams produce better business outcomes, but they’re not enough to fix entrenched inequalities. To make a dent, companies have to insist that their suppliers and managers embrace diversity, too.”
In 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission resolved more than 90,000 cases of discrimination to the tune of $505 million paid to victims. Those figures don’t include the other substantial penalties of discrimination, which include increased turnover, damaged brand perception and lost productivity as other employees (and potential employees) quit or avoid the company. Whether for age, race, disability, gender or another reason, discrimination harms everything it touches.
Many of the people found guilty of discriminatory practices wouldn’t call themselves bigoted, which is why diversity training is so important. Good diversity training challenges inherent biases and perceived norms to help well-meaning people treat others with the respect and consideration they deserve.
Companies with diverse workforces and existing inclusivity practices may believe they don’t need diversity training because they already know how to navigate the pitfalls. Overconfidence, however, can lead to serious arguments and breakdowns in relationships, even at companies with great cultures. Those arguments get especially heated when people who believe themselves to be unbiased get defensive in uncomfortable conversations.
“For privileged leaders, seemingly innocuous workplace comments can be some of the first times they explicitly think about their race, gender or sexuality,” writes diversity expert Lily Zheng in Harvard Business Review. “These leaders may hear mentions of a group they belong in, find those parts of their identities more salient than ever and, sensing critique, get defensive.”
Diversity training should make people feel uncomfortable at first — that’s the point. By working through that discomfort in a controlled environment, employees and leaders can learn the skills they need to navigate those tough conversations and situations in the real world. No matter what the makeup of the workforce or the philosophy of the company, regular diversity training can make the difference between a thriving, inclusive culture and a crumbling foundation.