It’s no secret that the United States has a problem with workplace diversity.
It’s so bad that within Fortune 500 companies, the number of female chief executives is about equal to the number of chief executives named John. (The ratio tips even more toward men named James.)
21 men named John vs. 23 women total as of 2018 (Source)
The number of women in a company isn’t the only problem. The stats are just as bad for people of color. The higher up in a company you go, the more white and male the employees become.
Workplace diversity conversations and changes have to address issues of implicit bias, race, gender, sexual orientation, privilege, and more. Whatever industry you work in, odds are your business is facing some (or all) of these challenges.
If you’re an HR manager at a small company, you may be wondering how you can help diversify your workplace and what you can do to improve the quality of life at work for minority staff members. Even if you can attract diverse applicants, can you create an office that will make them feel safe and happy?
The good news? Corporate training and eLearning can help turn the tide in favor of diversity in your workplace. Let’s spend some time looking at the challenge itself, before diving into some eLearning strategies to address it.
Looking at workplace diversity challenges
Articles about workplace diversity often focus on hiring. And that’s a good thing! Hiring more diverse candidates is a great first step to diversifying your workplace.
It’s vital to turn a critical eye at things like job posting language, the people you approach at job fairs, and the pools you draw from in the recruiting process. Are you hiring and promoting only people who come from the same background?
When minority candidates walk into a job interview, they’re paying attention to more than their answers. Will they feel comfortable or like they’re swimming against the current?
If all of your promotional and recruitment advertising material shows diversity at your company but that doesn’t match reality, new hires looking for a diverse workplace will recognize that right away.
But why worry so much about who is already working at a company? Especially if a company is trying to diversify and be better. Why wouldn’t someone want to work there?
Why diversity matters
Diversity isn’t just about hiring, and it isn’t just about numbers.
The most recent U.S. Census shows that roughly half of the country’s population is female, and roughly 40% is non-white. If your workplace doesn’t reflect similar numbers, at least a bit, it isn’t diverse.
And even if it does, number parity doesn’t mean you’ve achieved diversity. If everyone on the tech team is a white man and everyone on the secretarial and assistant team is Latina and female, your company isn’t actually diverse, no matter what the numbers say.
If people feel alone and underrepresented at their office, they know they’re facing an uphill fight for recognition, advancement, and acceptance. People from minority groups often feel unsupported or isolated in the workplace and may face microaggressions on a daily basis, leading to faster burnout.
Once your new hire scores a job, do they know they can get a promotion? Is there proof of it? Or will they be stuck in the same role forever? Black women still struggle to get promotions more than any other group, and the number of female faces in an organization tends to plummet within c-suite levels.
Female population percentages vs. female c-suite representation percentages (Source)
The nuts and bolts: Where to start or boost existing diversity efforts
What if you’re already tackling these areas? You’re truly putting in a good faith effort to hire more diverse candidates and to look in a wider variety of places to find talent.
That’s great! But, it isn’t quite enough to attract diverse talent. To do that, you need to create a workplace where they’ll want to stay.
That’s where eLearning comes in.
How to use eLearning to help solve diversity challenges
Corporate training as a whole (and eLearning, specifically) has an important role to play in diversifying your workplace.
Few workplaces set out to make people feel unwelcome or unsafe. But just about every person in the world has some level of internalized, unconscious bias, and that can be difficult to overcome without a lot of effort. (Don’t believe me? Try taking Harvard’s implicit association tests. They can be deeply revealing.)
Often, we aren’t even aware of our own internal biases, and it takes effort to root them out and learn other ways to interact with the world.
These biases frequently lead to microaggressions, “brief verbal, behavioural or environmental slights that communicate hostility or offence.” Research shows that microaggressions are much more impactful and upsetting when coming from those close to you (like your colleagues) as opposed to strangers.
This can be a huge contributing factor for minority employees who feel burnt out and leave their jobs. The good news is that education can minimize microaggressions, since unkind comments and behaviors are often made out of ignorance or a lack of experience interacting with different people.
By starting a workplace diversity corporate training program, you can educate employees on some of the challenges and struggles minority groups face in the workplace and give them ways to be more welcoming and accepting of everyone.
This type of training is a great way to encourage your workforce to be more inclusive and help improve your retention rate (and hopefully hiring and promotion rates, too) across employees.
In particular, eLearning is a great way to deliver this training because of the safety and distance it provides for trainees. Diversity training can quickly put people on the defensive, no matter how gentle the phrasing may be.
Race, gender, and discrimination are sensitive subjects. Having the privacy of a screen between trainers and learners is a great way to dial down the tension and make sure that everyone absorbs the lessons without feeling attacked or uncomfortable.
When to bring in training
When I was in college, I was part of a team that helped train academic professionals on diversity and inclusion. The fact that professors and admins would show up to the training was great! It meant they really wanted to learn.
But, uncovering the places where they held unconscious biases and educating them about them was a long process. Not only did they find that they said or did things they didn’t realize were offensive, they often found that they’d been perpetuating stereotypes without thinking about it.
They weren’t bad people. The opposite! It was a group of great people with a strong urge to learn and better themselves. But the learning was difficult.
Professional workplace situations can make this process even harder. The stats throughout this piece are symptoms of a system that gives fewer opportunities to and devalues the work that women and people of color do. Implicit biases don’t go away without a ton of work, and if you don’t know you have a bias, you can’t do much to get rid of it.
Start your training program with a story of a situation in which you recognized your own implicit bias, and approach the lessons from a vantage point of collective improvement.
Recommendations for implementation
Here are a few places to start to make your training program better:
- Prioritize and center minority voices—it’s more important to hear about diversity struggles from the people experiencing them than people observing them. Use articles and lessons from these groups as the basis of your teaching material. If you hire other people to create your eLearning content, try to find actual experts on diversity for this training.
- Come to the training plan with an open mind, and encourage your learners to as well. Unlearning internalized sexism and racism is an ongoing process that you need to embrace to truly root out.
- Don’t tokenize your current minority employees. You wouldn’t want to be asked to speak for everyone who looks like you, right? That’s a lot of pressure, and it isn’t your job, so don’t make it someone else’s. (If you’re not sure how to achieve both this and my first point, remember that the difference is between people who have chosen to write and teach about diversity, and someone who does a totally different profession and just happens to be a member of a minority group.)
- Diversity challenges are a touchy subject. You may find that your employees are resistant to or struggle with it at first. Use a learning management system to make the training easier and more comfortable to complete.
Are you taking steps to solve your diversity challenges?
Hiring and retaining diverse talent is a struggle many HR managers face at small businesses. But with the right knowledge and effort, it’s a challenge you truly can overcome.
Is eLearning a solution for diversity problems that you feel your company is on top of? Or do you have questions about how you could be doing better? Tell me in the comments below, or tweet me @CapterraHalden.
Looking for Training software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Training software solutions.