During an episode of Diversity Day at the office, mid-level manager Michael Scott (mentored by his company Dunder Mifflin) organized a diversity and inclusion training event for his team. “We only have an hour,” said the external trainer who was invited to host the presentation. And, after an awkward 60 minutes, the trainer leaves immediately, leaving the audience with more questions (and concerns) than answers. Scott then tried to fill the rest of the day with some follow-up diversity training, which (needless to say) was an absolute disaster. The whole episode was painful to watch, but from an L&D perspective, it sent a very powerful message.
The message is that training for diversity and inclusion in the workplace doesn’t happen in a day. To make an impact and have a tangible impact, it needs to be part of an ongoing program. This requires managers to understand, invest and engage from start to finish.
But what does this mean in reality? let’s see.
What is diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace?
Acronyms are everywhere. They have their uses. However, in order to provide a clean and crisp shorthand, acronyms often obscure what they really stand for. DEI is a typical example.
Citing their commitment to “DEI,” many organizations want the acronym to do the work for them. Failing to dig too deep, they only scratched the surface of the concept without investing any significant time or meaningful training to explore utility. Or, a deeper meaning associated with three unique terms.
To promote true diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, DEI must be seen as a theoretical and universal commitment to “recognizing people’s differences.” It has to be about building a truly inclusive workplace. To do this, concepts need to be dissected and actionable steps assigned to three distinct elements:
- Diversity: Recognize the physical, social and psychological differences of all current and future employees
- Equity: Breaking down barriers so everyone has the same expectations, treatment, opportunities and progress
- Inclusive: welcomes and values everyone and makes them feel like part of a larger team
- But how does it work in practice?
Manager’s role in building a comprehensive team
Like Dunder Mifflin, many companies consider diversity and inclusion training the equivalent of a one-time mandatory training workshop or online module. But the reality is that while this approach might tick the box, in practice it doesn’t make any difference.
Driving long-term behavioral change and integrating diversity and inclusion into workplace culture requires constant reinforcement. And who can do this better than your managers, who are a regular presence in your employees’ daily work lives? For employees to truly commit to diversity, equity and inclusion across the company, managers need to take the lead and set an example.
- Demonstrating an understanding and awareness of the importance of diversity and equality in the workplace is critical.
- Find and share research or articles on diversity and inclusion topics
- Invite team members to bring up discussion topics in team meetings
- Be open to new diversity and inclusion topics
- D&I programs and events highlighting internal communications
- But this formal, public approach is not enough. To truly make an impact and drive change, managers need to put their commitment to diversity into action. They need to be consistently seen as doing so. Whether it’s at the recruiting stage, or in an internal promotion, in team meetings or individual catch-ups, or in the language and images used in their communications, how managers embody diversity in their day-to-day work is the most powerful learning tool .
Empower managers to grow and lead diverse teams
Some things are easy to teach. For example, repairing a dripping faucet. Diversity training is not that simple. As humans, we all have our own personal views and experiences, as well as our own conscious and unconscious biases. It doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us human. Because of our culture, upbringing and environment, our brains make decisions for us without us even realizing it. This is great in many ways, but not so great when it comes to challenging and changing preconceptions around diversity.