Inclusive Management Training Next Step

25th November 2019

Diversity training is important, but it is rarely enough to change corporate culture without the support of broader interventions – inclusive management.

According to research by Harvard Business Review, many organisations roll out diversity training, and are then disappointed to find that very little changes. In some cases, diversity training has produced negative results – leaving organisations less diverse than they were before the training was offered.

What is going wrong? Why doesn’t diversity training help reduce inequality at work and improve the diversity of our workforces?

In many cases, the problems are twofold: the training itself is limited or flawed, and the training is not supported by wider organisational changes.

Why does diversity training fail?

There are many reasons why diversity training can fail. It might be because the training is seen as a cure-all for systemic issues, and never really has a chance of succeeding.

Mandatory diversity training can feel like a collective punishment for the bad behaviour of a minority, rather than a genuine learning opportunity.

If employees feel they are being told what to think, they may resist. Instead of increasing diversity, clumsily-delivered training can inspire a backlash.

“Those tools are designed to pre-empt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions. Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out” – ‘Why Diversity Programs Fail’, Harvard Business Review, 2016

Employees who perceive themselves as unbiased may also believe that the training is not aimed at them, so they may ignore the lessons. Other employees may dismiss the program as patronising political-correctness, rather than something with value to them and the wider organisation.

How can organisations become more diverse?

If diversity training alone is not enough, what can organisations do to reduce bias?

In their article Why Diversity Programs Fail for Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Kalev and Frank Dobbin write: “In analyzing three decades’ worth of data from more than 800 U.S. firms and interviewing hundreds of line managers and executives at length, we’ve seen that companies get better results when they ease up on the control tactics. It’s more effective to engage managers in solving the problem, increase their on-the-job contact with female and minority workers, and promote social accountability—the desire to look fair-minded. That’s why interventions such as targeted college recruitment, mentoring programs, self-managed teams, and task forces have boosted diversity in businesses. Some of the most effective solutions aren’t even designed with diversity in mind.”

Engaging managers in solving diversity issues

When people feel that training or initiatives are being imposed on them, without their involvement, they typically feel that they are being admonished. Instead of listening to the content of the message, people feel angry and resistant.

Managers should be invited to participate in the design and development of diversity programs. After all, they have a clearer view of the needs from within the business.

Diversity schemes should be voluntary, so that people can choose to take part, rather than feel forced to undergo corrective training.

Schemes that blur the lines between departments and organisational grades help to give everyone the same opportunities. This might take the form of cross-training or mentoring schemes.

Mentoring is particularly effective at connecting younger people from minority groups with more established (and powerful) colleagues, who can then help them advance within the organisation.

With all of these initiatives, it is essential that people are in control of their own participation, rather than being forced to comply.

Diversity training for managers

Do your managers have the skills and knowledge to help spread diversity throughout your organisation?

While training is only part of the puzzle when it comes to reducing bias and discrimination at work, it is an important first step. Before you can work creatively to reduce bias, your colleagues need to understand where bias lies and how it can be prevented, particularly in the areas of recruitment and performance management.

Marshall E-Learning has a number of courses designed to help your managers understand the importance of diversity:


To find out further information about our courses and what we do, please get in contact here.

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