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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Odgers

Why Coaching Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace Should Not Be Taboo

Now more than ever, people from all walks of life are coming together in the workplace as employees, businesses, and customers cross borders. Globalisation and technology has made the world a smaller place in some ways, more connected if you like, and that is bringing different ideas, attitudes, beliefs, and cultures into workplaces around the world.

As I reflect on my own career, I feel lucky that it has taken me many places — across continents, cultures, and industries. I have benefited personally and professionally from exposure to such a diverse and rich mix of backgrounds, people, and business practices. It has shaped who I am as a professional and has enabled me to bring that experience and a global growth mindset into each organisation I’ve worked with.

But uniting people from disparate backgrounds, ethnicities, creed, or orientation can present some challenges. Equally, as businesses expand into new markets and customer segments, open operations outside of their headquarters, and work with suppliers located across time zones, a lack of cultural understanding can cause confusion, trigger unconscious bias, or create unintended tension. However, progressive organisations are taking steps to institutionalise diversity as part of their corporate DNA. They are taking a stance to embrace a broad set of skills, ideas, and ideologies to innovate...and that is exciting!

In this post, I will look at why diversity and inclusion (D&I) should matter to corporate and learning leaders, for those yet not convinced anyway. I'll also get practical and give some pointers on to support a cultural diversity education program at scale using microlearning.

The Evolution of Workplace Diversity and Why It Matters

As our partner Culture Coach points out, the concept of diversity has continually evolved over the last couple of decades, originally focusing primarily on race and later expanding to include women, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community.

Today, diversity has been broadened to include physical characteristics, family backgrounds, military status, and more. On a simplified level, workplace diversity doesn’t have a specific label and should not just be seen as a risk mitigation exercise. It is more about embracing the uniqueness in each of us and that we can all come together to work cohesively while servicing the needs of a diverse customer base.

Beyond the scope of recognising that diversity exists and how it is defined, finding a way to embrace and educate employees is top of mind for HR leaders and training departments. And those who have implemented D&I training programs have seen far-reaching benefits.

Take EY, for example, the first of the Big Four to assign partner-level leadership to diversity recruiting. Since the change, the number of women in executive positions has increased more than 20%, and programs such as EY Launch have begun, which encourages ethnically diverse university students to pursue careers in accounting. They believe “this minimises blind spots, and encourages truly innovative thinking.”

According to the management consulting company McKinsey, “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” This shows that incorporating more diversity within a workforce can have a massive impact on a corporation’s functionality, and that maximising differences of opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds can lead to profound success.

More evidence comes from a Boston Consulting Group study that finds companies with a more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to the innovation those teams drive.

There are also many studies that link employee engagement to productivity which has a positive outcome on performance and a reduction in the costs of employee turnover.

How D&I is Nurtured in the Workplace

There is no question that a culture of diversity and inclusion starts internally and from the top down. If corporate leadership teams truly embrace diversity, they will see business benefit in leveraging unique talents to innovate their products, customer service, and operations.

Typically organisations set HR or the learning function to the task of implementing D&I training. Often this can be a tick box exercise using traditional learning delivery methods such as a one-off classroom setting or an eLearning module that embodies content on cultural sensitivity awareness.

These programs are a step in the right direction and aim to educate employees on accepting each others’ differences as a way to create more meaningful work. Yet, as one-offs and often theory-based, it is hard to imagine how this activity alone will create the mindset shift needed to change corporate behaviours.

Fundamental behaviour change will only come from a continuous learning program that may need a blended approach to successfully instil the desired values into its employees:

  • Mandatory training

  • Diversification at the leadership level

  • Continuous communication

  • Job-specific education

And this is where microlearning comes in.

Microlearning as an Enabler of D&I Strategy

Best-practice microlearning is a learning and development strategy that breaks down often complex training content into bite-size, scenario-based challenges. It relies on repetitive delivery and testing to improve long-term knowledge retention and change employee behaviours.

Touching on verbal vs. non-verbal communication, cultural understanding, and listening in the format of job-related Q&A scenarios, microlearning should stimulate critical thinking on how best to respond or behave in a particular situation.

Presenting real-life challenges that simulate possible situations in the workplace engages learners. Making the learning experience interactive and in the flow of work, employees are more likely to participate. And that is key to the learning process to be successful and helps learners retain information and apply it when presented with a cognitively related situation.

A scenario-based approach is well suited to D&I education programs as it is situation and contextual, not just theory and hard facts based, which helps bring about meaningful behaviour change.

I understand that affecting behaviour change within an organisation at scale can seem a tall order. People are who they are, and it’s difficult to change habits and mindsets. This can be a huge obstacle when trying to revamp company culture and encourage inclusion and acceptance.

But we have to start somewhere, to engage employees and bring out their best.

Corporate leaders and learning leaders have the opportunity to shape a people strategy that educates employees to better understand and harness our differences to drive business results. Now is the time.

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