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March 10, 2009


When it comes to diversity, many organizations decide that the first thing they want to do is deliver training. Generally, this is because they think that training will be a fast way to "solve the problems". Consequently, they are often baffled when the training they provide ends up creating more problems than it addressed.

It is easy to blame the trainers and to say, "they did not know what they were doing." However, in my experience, while the trainers may share some responsibility for unsuccessful training, the problem is often that the organization does not carefully assess what its needs are to determine whether training is the right intervention at the time.

Conducting a diversity assessment is a good way for an organization to identify issues and come up with helpful recommendations to address them. Training is simply one of many interventions that can address diversity issues. For instance, it may make sense to first rewrite some policies and procedures, or to implement a mentoring program. However, if an organization conducts an assessment and determines that training would address important issues, here are some tips for making training more effective both in terms of time and money.

Here are 10 tips for conducting a successful diversity assessment:

1. Be sure that a cross-section (e.g., by department, staff level, etc.) of the organization is involved in identifying the issues. By involving a cross-section of the organization, there is more opportunity for people to feel that their issues were heard. When people their issues addressed in the training, they tend to be more supportive and less resistant.

2. The organization should use a broad and inclusive definition of diversity relevant to the organization. However, a training should never leave out race and gender in its training - these issues remain at the forefront of diversity issues and must be dealt with.

3. The training should be interactive. Adults learn differently than children and so lecturing to adults often fails. In addition, participants should discover for themselves what their own issues, biases and "hot buttons" are so that they can address them.

4. The training must address the difficult issues in a way that is respectful and helpful for learning. Trainers should not single out groups of persons for ridicule or intimidation.

5. The trainers should reflect as much diversity as possible. Diverse trainers bring diverse experiences and those experiences help to facilitate learning about diversity.

6. Training should focus on changing behaviors in the workplace. Participants must realize how their behaviors impact others who are different from them and why that is important to the working relationship. By realizing this, participants begin the process of ensuring a respectful workplace.

7. Training should be done on a regular basis. Simply having a one-time training without follow-up in any subject does not work. Diversity is no different.

8. The organization has to decide whether it wants the training to be mandatory or optional. This decision should not be made causally. It can only be made after the organization reviews its issues, the results of its assessment and its objectives.

9. All levels of the organization must participate. The organization must make a decision about whether it will train senior staff and management separately from other staff. That decision can only be made after a review of the assessment results, the issues, training objectives and the organizational culture.

10. Make training fun. The topic is difficult but making it fun can facilitate learning.


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