Though companies across the country recently created or increased diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs, to what degree have they been successful? Turns out, without significant investment in time and behavior-based training, much of this may have little long lasting value.
Most DE&I programs focus on half-day or one day sessions where the content is about increasing knowledge (what we know) and attempting to alter attitudes (what we believe). But with regard to our long-held beliefs and perspectives, failing to take the time to incorporate true behavioral change, such new knowledge may be quickly forgotten and beliefs will tend to revert back to where they were before the training.
Organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant says research shows programs are most effective when they focus on behavior—not just raising awareness and changing attitudes but emphasizing what you can do. Sustainable behavior change means treating bias as a bad habit and one to break.
Grant says one of the strongest predictors of moving towards a more inclusive organization is appointing a chief diversity officer. Fighting systemic bias then requires creating a management structure for diversity and inclusion, which ultimately changes its composition leading to a change in the organizational culture.
BAE Systems, an aerospace and defense company with a workforce of 90,000 employees across 40 countries, created a series of initiatives to make anti-bias work an ongoing experience. For example, they have a Courageous Conversations program where alums from the bias training discuss race and racial equity with employees from underrepresented groups. They provide a Mentoring Program where they pair a white person with an employee of color. And BAE plans to make leaders accountable by building diversity and inclusion objectives into performance reviews.
“We’ve seen a 15% increase in those leaders, hiring women and people of color,” says Tyece Wilkins, a diversity and inclusion senior advisor at BAE. “We also see an 11% increase in their inclusive leadership skills. So, it’s not them saying, Hey, I’m a more inclusive leader. it’s their direct reports. The people who work with them every day saying this person is more inclusive.”
Glassdoor lists the 20 Best Companies for Diversity and Inclusion and includes Visa, Medtronic, Gap, HP, Nestlé, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Proctor & Gamble, and Microsoft. Such diverse companies as these demonstrates what is possible.
It seems that the best DE&I training programs are those that are able to increase knowledge, influence beliefs and change behavior. To do this, it can come down to a combination of awareness, acceptance and action.
- Awareness – Provide ample time and opportunity to interact with those throughout the organization that includes diversity in race, gender and job title; actively listen to others’ perspective and experience; keep a beginner’s mind and learn to unlearn as necessary.
- Acceptance – Realize and accept without becoming overly defensive that you may have privilege simply because you are white, because you are male, because you are educated, because you were born not having to worry about where your next meal was coming from, or any number of factors that you probably couldn’t control. No need to apologize for this, but simply acknowledge it and learn from others.
- Action – Call out behaviors that are inappropriate in a manner that doesn’t embarrass or shame people; ensure that new desired behaviors are measured and rewarded; provide consistency throughout the organization so everyone is held accountable.
Training to unlearn a behavior (such as unconscious bias) means rewiring the way you think about and categorize that action. The challenge in rewiring those connections is that behaviors like bias are learned over a lifetime, and it simply takes time to unlearn them.
Effective DE&I training programs should be long enough to make a difference. They absolutely need to include all leadership from the very beginning. They need to provide not only increasing our knowledge and our attitudes, but also our behavior. Only then will we see a more equitable workplace.