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Raise awareness, limit the training

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

If you want to encourage diversity, the worst thing you can do is hold mandatory training sessions for employees. Demanding that they take a full day to attend the program—while keeping pace with their normal workload—can turn tolerant people into resentful cynics.

Most diversity training seminars seem fairly harmless at the time. Facilitators usually put participants through a series of exercises to increase their empathy.

The problem is in the days and weeks after the training. In an honest moment, even the best-intentioned, more open-minded employees may grumble, “That diversity training was a big waste of time!”

If you really want to engage your workers in the importance of diversity, skip the formal training seminars. They’re expensive and usually perceived as irrelevant or silly by the people they’re designed to help.

Instead, promote tolerance by inviting staffers to help you create policies that ensure openness and fair treatment of all team members. That may transform “diversity skeptics” into believers.

It’s also important to model non-judgmental communication skills. Say an employee expresses concern about holding a team picnic on a religious holiday. Rather than disregard the objection or insist that “very few people around here celebrate that holiday,” show curiosity. Ask, “Can you elaborate on that?”

An underwriting manager at a large insurance company uses an awareness-raising technique that’s free, easy and fun. In one corner of a bulletin board in his office, he keeps a running list of characteristics related to diversity. Examples include race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political beliefs, religious beliefs, marital status and educational background.

Any member of his team can add to the list. Just recently, he tells us, someone wrote “accent.” Apparently, an employee felt that some peers judged him unfairly because of his foreign accent.

The list generates lots of positive attention. People often comment on it when they visit his office. It serves as an icebreaker to promote diversity without forcing workers to sit through long training programs.

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