Five Oaks Consulting

Diversity

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.

Beyond Diversity Training – What Works (Part Two)

Diversity Training: Maintaining Local Nuance when Addressing a Global Challenge

This is Part Two of 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. For Part One, see above. Richard is solely responsible for the views expressed in this post.

In Part 1 of this two-part guest blog on diversity training, we address how often-maligned “mandatory diversity training” for an entire organization can actually play a vital role in a much longer journey by providing quick wins early on. A related phenomenon INGOs must address when tackling the need for greater diversity and inclusion is how to maintain local nuance while applying a global strategy to address the problem.

Any one action reverberates across the entire organization

On the one hand, there is a challenge, in an era of acute sensitivity to ethics and accountability in INGOs, where the impact of one individual within a single part of a federated organisation—which, in many respects, acts an independent entity—can cause a reputational tsunami for the global brand. On the other hand, the question when endeavouring to make a change such as increasing diversity, therefore, is how to best balance the need for a global, standardised approach with the reality of implementing such a complex change across a global network of entities of very different scales, resource levels, and leadership maturity. (And this is all without even mentioning the local cultural differences and understandings of what “diversity and inclusion” mean that deeply affect the people on the ground.)

Allowing for local nuance in implementing diversity training

Due to these myriad factors, INGOs need to carefully think through them and their nuances before adopting a “levelling up” or standardised approach to implementing diversity training. For instance, an approach that may be wholly appropriate for a European context might totally miss the zeitgeist in North America and have little relevance in countries in Asia and Africa. What is deployed needs to be adaptive, flexible, and localised, and must recognise how perspectives differ from country to country due to social norms, legacy factors, and the political and cultural context.

When developing an approach to diversity training within your organization, it is therefore necessary to use the following question as a guide:

  • How do you account for different ways of thinking and the need for local nuance when approaching diversity awareness at a global level?

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

Richard Eastmond, January 2021


DiverseTeamFacingBoard

Diversity training does not work. So what does?

Diversity training does not work. So what does?

For good reasons, there is lots of attention going to efforts to make our organizations more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive. Diversity and unconscious bias related discussion and training abound in our international social sector. Clearly, NGOs are following the lead of many corporations and government entities that have installed such training and awareness-raising initiatives. 

There’s only one problem

There is one problem with this. What’s the evidence that these initiatives actually are helpful? Not much, when you look at it closely. The research is clear and consistent: diversity training does not work, and cognitive awareness-raising has limited utility (see here for just one example of a sum-up of the research). 

So what does work?

So what does work? A focus on creating and encouraging practical, widely shared organizational habits and behaviors, such as on recruitment, induction, mentoring, task allocation, talent management, and performance management,  backed up by organizational systems. And backed up by publically transparent metrics and benchmarking. During a recent presentation to the Global Perspectives gathering of the International Civil Society Center, I offered some practical handles. Please see my presentation here.

Instead of talking, let’s focus on our organizational habits and behaviors

I know we love to discuss our values and principles, including when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But let’s instead focus on some specific organizational habits and behaviors. Talk to me if this makes you curious, or you want more help!