One size fits all is a great concept for sleeping bags, neckties and some kinds of socks—but not for employee training programs in organizations that hope to be diverse and inclusive.

Consider: The value of fostering an inclusive environment is in making it safe for all employees to be themselves and, therefore, fully able to contribute their ideas, perspective and expertise. In other words, the value to the business is diversity of thought. Does it make sense, then, that employees of different genders, ages, races, cultures, abilities, experiences and learning styles (just for starters) would all respond equally well to exactly the same training?

And yet that’s precisely what most organizations offer: Highly structured, static training built to teach specific skills. What’s often overlooked in the design of that training is the diversity of the people we want to teach. A better approach is to design training that is, itself, inclusive. Not only will you be more likely to engage everyone, but you’ll model and reinforce a diverse and inclusive culture in the process.

Here are six important steps that will help you do it.

1) Present Information in Diverse Formats

In a truly inclusive workplace, you’ll be training people who have a wide range of experience, language fluency and learning styles. Therefore, your training will be more effective if you give trainees several options for accessing the information they need.

For example, many people are now so accustomed to turning to instructional video on YouTube or other platforms when they want to learn something that they will want a similar option at work, too. A library of short, topic-specific videos allows people to access the information at any time and to watch it as often as they need. On the other hand, video is a one-way medium that doesn’t allow for interaction. Augmenting the video with facilitator-led training sessions allows trainees to ask questions. Such sessions also allow the facilitator to evaluate the trainee’s mastery of the content and for trainees to learn from each other. Because diversity of thought is the ultimate goal, training is a great place to begin exposing employees to perspectives that are different from their own.

How fluent a trainee is in the language will also influence how well he or she can master the material. Whenever possible, provide training materials translated into multiple languages. When that isn’t possible or practical, do what you can to support trainees learning at their own pace. Providing training material before the training gives participants time to review it and understand the training objectives. Written material also allows people who are less confident in their fluency to review the material or use it as a reference after the fact.

2) Ask For and Use Input From Diverse Populations

Any training program you create is ultimately for employees – so find out how you can help. During the development process, take time to ask for a diversity of perspectives. What were the biggest obstacles to people successfully integrating into the organization’s culture? What did they encounter that didn’t make sense to them? What specific questions or concerns did (or do) they have? What do they wish they had understood better from the beginning? In other words, walk the talk. It’s hard to be credible advocate for a diversity of perspectives if the training only reflects one point of view.

3) Look at Your Own Behavior and Biases

Employees will look to the trainer to set the example for what’s expected. Therefore, every interaction is a chance to model what inclusion looks like. When you walk into the training room, do you greet everyone equally or do you focus on the people who are most like you? Do you show equal respect for every trainee’s observations or questions?

It’s vital to think about your own implicit bias, too. Let’s say that you have a couple of participants who are quieter than the others. How do you interpret that? Do you believe that it indicates disinterest? Do you assume that they are introverts, or that they lack confidence? Do you consider that the culture they were raised in may influence how they interact with you and others? The point is not to make assumptions about why people behave as they do. Take time to get to know the trainees as people.

4) Encourage New Ideas and Fresh Perspectives

Training is usually about teaching employees “how we do things around here.” What if it were also about discovering new ways of doing things? After all, most trainees don’t have preconceived ideas about how things are or “should be,” so as they learn about the organization they may also see a different (perhaps better) way of doing things. Does it really make sense to ignore those ideas during training, only to invite them later? Let go of the idea that training is a one-direction process and instead be open to learning from the trainees, too.

5) Pay Attention to the Optics

Effective training incorporates a lot of visual elements: photos, video, graphics and more. It also often includes activities. How you choose to represent the organization makes a powerful statement about how serious you are about diversity and inclusion. Do the employees in the photos look like the employees in the workplace, or do they all look the same? Do you reference employees of all ages? Do the names used in activities or examples reflect several cultures? If employees don’t see themselves reflected in the material, you’re sending a signal that their presence isn’t important.

6) Create a Culture of Inclusion

Your organization has its own culture, and within that your training programs have their own micro-cultures. Being diligent about fostering micro-cultures that model the ideal can make the training more effective and influence the broader culture, too. Some ways to do so:

  • Create space in the training (literally and figuratively) for trainees to pursue things that may be important to them, such as prayer.
  • If trainees say things in training that reinforce stereotypes, or use humor that targets a specific group, seize the opportunity to have a respectful but candid conversation about how others hear those remarks.
  • Assign tasks fairly and evenly—don’t always ask a woman to take notes or give all the leadership tasks to men.
  • Step in if employees who are more vocal interrupt or speak over others; make it clear every voice matters equally.
  • Encourage trainees to speak up if they see, hear or experience things that they don’t believe are inclusive.
  • Avoid slang, colloquialisms and abbreviations; if you don’t, you place an extra burden on people who are learning in a second language

Help trainees to see that everyone does not see things as they do.

No training program, no matter how well constructed, can carry the full burden of shaping diverse culture and fostering true inclusion. But a good training program can absolutely be part of the solution (not just an extension of the problem) and can be a powerful instrument of change.

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