Cultural Diversity Training in the Workplace: Is it Achievable?
Nobody benefits when cultural diversity training is associated with punishment for something that went wrong in your organization.
Hearing some people’s ideas on cultural diversity training can be disheartening. Some people think this kind of training achieves the opposite of the desired effect by focusing on differences rather than on commonalities. Others believe it offers a forum to lash out against white people. It’s difficult — if not altogether impossible— to get everyone to agree that there are benefits to cultural diversity training.
Cultural diversity training is not a program where you teach white employees how to avoid offending African Americans or Latinos.
Our take is that the main reason why cultural diversity training has such a conflicting reputation is because many organizations remember the need for cultural sensitivity too late— When they’ve been sued or when a big scandal hits the front pages of the New York Times. Naturally, damage control will never be as effective as integrating cultural diversity training into your strategic priorities.
What cultural diversity training is not
When we talk about cultural diversity, we not only refer to ethnicity and race but also to a wide range of characteristics that make up a particular culture: age, gender, religion, ability level, physical condition, profession, education, and so on. What’s interesting is that when you look at culture this way, you quickly realize that cultural diversity training is not a program where you teach white employees how to avoid offending African Americans or Latinos. It’s more about everyone learning to identify cultural differences in the workplace in order to respect them and capitalize on the advantages of working in a culturally rich environment.
Making everyone feel valued is a stepping stone to becoming more culturally sensitive
Rather than conducting sporadic cultural diversity training in your organization, it would be much more effective to stimulate a culture of ongoing curiosity.
We see the effects of this approach in our Red Shoe Movement programs. Participants of very different backgrounds interact with each other in an environment that fosters honest conversations about what’s important to each person. In addition, our methodology helps participants recognize what they have to contribute as individuals. As a result, they feel their value reaffirmed – a much-needed step to accepting cultural differences in others.
By recognizing that they have something distinctive to offer their colleagues, people are more likely to accept that others have something unique to offer as well. In turn, this awareness enables people to establish relationships with those who are unlike themselves. It’s by virtue of these individual relationships that it becomes easier to overcome stereotypes.
Valuing cultural diversity takes building relationships
You know how it goes. People say they “hate Muslims, Latinos, Jews,” you name it, but they love their Muslim friend Joe or their Latino neighbor who takes care of their kids.
It’s easier to hate an abstract concept. Once that concept becomes a person with whom you interact and with whom you have several things in common, it becomes harder to hate them.
Yet, the only way to turn an abstract idea into a relatable person is to offer opportunities for people to interact and get to know each other in a non-threatening environment where they can appreciate each other’s unique qualities, habits, values and traditions. It is quite hard to achieve this level of understanding with only occasional cultural diversity training.
Cultural diversity as an advantage rather than a mandate
The only way in which you can achieve long-lasting, authentic acceptance is by approaching cultural diversity as the fabulous advantage it is rather than as a mandate. Many studies show the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace on an organization’s bottom line and work environment. Without a doubt, making your organization a place that welcomes all kinds of cultures should be a strategic priority in a global economy.
In this regard, we’ve seen how the Red Shoe Movement’s engaging methodology fosters the creation of a more culturally diverse workforce and leadership pipeline. Our approach of nurturing diverse talent to flourish in their careers is sustained in the long run by the global grassroots movement with which they engage. This has the effect of putting individuals (mostly women) in the driver’s seat of their careers. Their own motivation drives their growth, which is always more effective than trying to accelerate their growth with external efforts.
When you envision a culturally diverse organization, opting for cultural diversity training is probably not the way to go. Instead, you may want to consider ways to infuse curiosity about others into your organization. Your employees will embrace their multicultural workplace, and they will soon come to see it as a major competitive advantage that the organization can’t live without.
With how important it is for everyone to understand things like diversity, I was curious as to how workplaces were approaching it. You wrote that many companies will have programs where people of different backgrounds interact with each other and have honest conversations. Stuff like that and inspiring speakers could really help teach employees and bosses themselves how to better understand one another.