Beyond Diversity Training – What Works (Part One)

Mandatory diversity training, the need for short-term wins and a nuanced approach to a global challenge

A guest blog post by Richard Eastmond; Richard is the former Senior Director for People, Operations and Corporate Services at Amnesty International. He currently serves as an independent consultant. Richard is solely responsible for the views expressed is this post.

Responding to Tosca’s challenge on (mandatory) diversity training

Tosca @ Five Oaks Consulting recently shared her practitioner knowledge on what works and what doesn’t in diversity training. Pushing back on common trends within INGOs, she argues that mandatory training doesn’t work and that singling out certain groups or people for such training is unlikely to produce meaningful change. However, voluntarily attending a diversity training strengthens a person’s resolve to do more to fight bias, while a broader focus on management systems, mentoring for all, behaviour modeling by influential people, and allyship is key to systemic change.

In this two-part blog post, I argue that there can be a place for mandatory diversity training and that there is plenty of reason to leave room for local nuance and interpretation of what diversity awareness means.

Part One: Short-Term Wins with a Long-Term Plan

Organizations are always in a hurry, and never more so than when they need to change. Whether engaging small, simple changes or addressing issues as complex as diversity, they have no time to wait for the “tide to turn”; action must be engaged now. In fact, getting started is extremely important, because these actions, over time, become embedded and are what influence long-term changes in behaviour. It’s getting started—especially when the undertaking can feel so monumental—that can be challenging.

When an organisation recognises that it must address a big issue like diversity, it needs to balance many different elements that, collectively, will contribute to systematic and deep-rooted change. Leadership must seek input and collaboration in order to generate a sense of cocreation and buy-in from all relevant stakeholders. The organization must establish clear best practices with expert input and embrace a fully intersectional approach. Taken together, these tasks can appear overwhelming, and oftentimes their execution reflects that reality—many elements will be left incomplete or even entirely neglected as the will to see them all through slowly dissipates.

Quick wins matter

Consequently, quick wins are never more important than when beginning the process of tackling an issue like diversity. To me, mandatory training, often seen as the ‘sheep dip,’ is an admittedly blunt instrument, but it also acts to highlight the importance of an issue. It demonstrates that the issue affects everyone, regardless of identity or station within the organization, and demonstrates that leadership is invested in making a significant change. While it is no ‘silver bullet,’ mandatory training has its place at the start of a change journey; the key is incorporating it into a mission-centred story that demonstrates the necessity of diversity and how it will benefit the organisation, its people, its partners, and its beneficiaries.

Key questions to answer

If you are looking into increasing diversity within your organization, here are two key questions to answer early and often throughout your journey:

  • How have you balanced a symbolic training intervention with a long-term, multi-pronged plan around promoting diversity in an INGO?
  • What leadership acts have helped or will help your organisation ensure a systemic change—namely embedding diversity and inclusion in all its forms—takes place?

I look forward to hearing your perspective: please reach out to me on LinkedIn with your responses.

Richard Eastmond, January 2021

For part two of Richard’s argument, check below.