Diversity Training for Managers: DEI Overview and Practical Tips

Diversity at Business Meeting

DEI is a set of characteristics and practices that create opportunities for everyone to achieve their full potential.

Acronyms are inescapable. They can be useful, but they often hide the true meaning of what they represent. Never has this been more true than with DEI, an acronym that defies easy translation and understanding. Organizations that commit to following the “DEI” model often expect the acronym to do all of their thinking for them. Failing to dig past the surface, they pay lip service to the concept, without investing any significant time or meaningful training into exploring the practicalities. Or, they fail to explore the deeper meaning associated with each of the three unique terms. This is where diversity training for managers becomes critical in the longevity and effectiveness of DEI programs and initiatives. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion are critical to an organization’s success. They need to be more than a theoretical commitment in order to be effective in the workplace. To move beyond theory, though, each of the three elements—the concepts behind DEI—must be examined and specific actions assigned to each of them.

Diversity: Recognizing the physical, social, and psychological differences of all current employees is crucial to maintaining a diverse workforce.

Equity: Removing the barriers that have historically kept certain groups of people from getting the same opportunities as others.

Inclusion: Making everyone feel welcome and valued, and to have a shared sense of purpose.

But how does it actually work?

Diversity Training for Managers plays a key role in creating inclusive teams.

Many companies think diversity and inclusion training is a one-off mandatory workshop or online module, but this approach doesn’t make a difference in practice.

To change long-term behavior and to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion into a company’s culture, managers must continually reinforce those concepts. Managers are in regular contact with their employees, which makes them a constant presence in the lives of those workers.

If you’re looking to create a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization, it’s not enough to simply tell people to do it.

For employees to truly engage in a company-wide commitment to DEI, managers need to lead the way and set an example.

This means making sure everyone is included in planning meetings for events or initiatives related to DE&I—not just executives and managers. And when you’re putting together these meetings, make sure that you’re inviting all employees across departments—not just those who are typically involved with these types of activities.

It also means being open about the challenges that come up when trying to implement diversity goals at work. For example, if someone makes a racist joke during one of your team meetings, talk about how it made everyone feel uncomfortable and what could have been done differently next time so that this doesn’t happen again (like using more inclusive language).

Demonstrating understanding and awareness of the importance of diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace is crucial. And this can be achieved in a number of defined ways. For example, by:

  • being visible in your workplace and showing up for events that support diversity and inclusion
  • communicating openly about your commitment to diversity and inclusion with your employees
  • supporting the work of others who are working on projects related to diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • educating yourself about your own biases (we all have them) so you can learn how to challenge them

But a purely formal approach to DEI isn’t enough. Managers need to put their commitment into action, and be consistently seen doing so—whether it’s at the hiring stage or during internal promotion rounds, in team meetings or individual catch-ups, or in their communications.

The key is to focus on people’s behavior—not just in terms of how they interact with people who are different from themselves, but how they treat anyone who comes into contact with them. Are they conscious of whether their language is inclusive (or not)? Do they know what unconscious bias looks like? Are they open to learning about it? Do they actively seek out diverse opinions when making decisions?

The good news is that many managers are already doing these things—but not all of them are doing them consistently. And that’s why we need to keep talking about it until everyone gets there.

The keys to building a successful diversity training program for managers

To move the needle on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we need to give managers — especially our new managers — practical solutions, not just abstract ideas. If you’re designing a diversity and inclusion training program for your managers, here are six things you might want to consider:

  1. How to respond to employee feedback
  2. How to give feedback that is constructive and not destructive
  3. How to create a safe space for employees to talk about their differences
  4. How to create a culture of inclusion without making people feel like they are being judged or put down for who they are
  5. How to have a difficult conversation with someone who disagrees with you on an issue related to diversity and inclusion (without getting defensive or making things worse)
  6. How to deal with being accused of being biased against someone because of their race, gender identity or sexual orientation (and what your responses should be)

Once you’ve come up with a solid course agenda, it’s time to consider how your training program should be delivered. Make sure to set clear objectives and use different tools, resources, and formats to accommodate all learning types and environments. Your managers are busy people. You need to deliver a training program that reflects that.

Consider the use of technology to support your training efforts. A platform that is safe, secure, and neutral offers a great way to conduct potentially emotionally charged training such as diversity or unconscious bias.

Commitment to the long haul

As we’ve seen, achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is not something that can happen overnight. It takes time, careful planning, and active engagement by managers. They are key to its success.

In order to keep your team excited and engaged, you must set benchmarks and track progress. There is no better way to keep everyone on the same page than by cultivating a culture of accountability, celebrating milestones and successes, but being ready to change direction when needed. The journey may be long, but every step is a step in the right direction.

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