Blog Post

Why Your Organization Should Reconsider Its Approach to DEI Training

By James Cowling-Vega
October 18, 2023

Since the pandemic, societal shifts and a growing thirst for change have ignited a workplace revolution that is fundamentally altering how we view DEI training. Today’s talent landscape is marked by disengagement, quiet quitting, and conflicting employee sentiments—forcing corporate leaders to reconcile a stark dichotomy. On one side, there’s a growing chorus of voices calling for DEI to take center stage. On the other side, there’s resistance, an unyielding force that questions the urgency, efficacy, and necessity of DEI efforts.

We’ve reached a pivotal juncture that necessitates a fresh perspective. DEI training needs to evolve and become relevant to the entire workforce, so companies can bridge the gap between aspiration and apprehension in these turbulent times.

Is DEI Terminology Getting in the Way of Progress?

Even though 65% of US-based companies invest in annual DEI training for their employees, many HR and DEI leaders say that their budgets have already been reduced. Clearly, corporate leaders are questioning the value of DEI efforts among a sea of competing priorities. And they aren’t the only ones. This multigenerational workforce isn’t on the same page about it either. Gen Z and millennial employees expect companies to speak out on social issues, especially after the outpouring of social justice commitments in 2020. They frequently center job searches, career satisfaction, and where they do business around their perceptions of corporate values.

Inclusion – The act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.

2023 Seramount DEI Glossary

However, a quick Internet search for words related to DEI—such as “critical race theory”, “white fragility”, “discrimination”, or “social justice”—results in pages of critiques about these concepts being taught in schools and corporations. Employees and consumers across the country are criticizing how much money and time are spent on these three concepts: diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, how are talent leaders and executives supposed to retain and engage employees without alienating prospective applicants or their customer base? 

Redefine Professional Growth and Team Success

There’s often a renewed call for executive leaders and people managers to complete a DEI workshop or training when interpersonal conflicts or national tragedies arise. These “activities or training programs [are] meant to increase employees’ awareness of inequality and bias, and influence how they behave towards each other” according to the Association for Talent Development. However, DEI training must be proactive—not just reactive—to truly be transformative. Companies can no longer afford to only train a small contingent of employees how to improve team performance. To create a workplace culture where everyone feels safe enough to bring their best work-self to the job, employees at every level need to be introduced to new experiences and worldviews.

“Companies can only maximize the impact of inclusive learning and development once DEI capabilities are seen as critical levers for each employees individual progress and improving broader workplace culture.”

Mollie Teitelbaum, Seramount INstructional Designer

The inability to empathize or relate to a colleague undermines team dynamics and exacerbates power imbalances, making teams less successful. The way people communicate and connect with each other can be labeled a million different ways, but the intended outcome for how they interact universally applies to every business function, industry, and region. Building capacity for individuals to develop interpersonal skills in their work environment helps teams better navigate conflict and thrive professionally. DEI training is imperative to create a workplace where every employee can succeed.

When employees complete DEI training, they should know how to:

  • Find a common purpose
  • Listen more effectively
  • See things they’ve been missing
  • Take care of their team members

Maintaining Momentum in the Face of DEI Fatigue

Chief Diversity Officers and DEI teams can’t change corporate culture on their own. Observing the ongoing disconnect between corporate values and employee behaviors has resulted in rampant burnout for the people seen as leading the charge to make your workplace more inclusive. Embedding DEI training into every core business function (e.g., HR, finance, and operations) and team is the best way to impact policies and behaviors long-term, while mitigating employee divisiveness. In the same way that onboarding, manager training, and performance evaluations are standardized across an organization to foster employee success, adopting a new approach for teaching interpersonal and team dynamics benefits your bottom line. You’ll know that company-wide training has been successful when turnover costs, employee engagement, talent acquisition, and customer satisfaction improve. Chances are, you’ll get more buy-in for your new approach too.

Moving from awareness to action in the learning journey is the only way to create lasting behavior change. An inclusive learning journey should start with the foundational DEI concepts mentioned in ATD’s definition and extend far beyond a onetime unconscious bias training. Once staff members become aware of the core concepts, they need everyday tools and strategies to make work more welcoming. Are managers trained how to create safe work environments for their teams? Do individual contributors have the language and skills to stand up for each other when someone is being mistreated in the workplace? If your company doesn’t provide skill-building opportunities that make inclusion a habit, you’re diminishing the return on your investment in DEI.

An organization can only be as effective as its people are engaged, and how you engage them matters. The timing, format, and content of your training uniquely influence participation, level of satisfaction, and completion rates. Here at Seramount, our instructional designers tailor workshops for segmented employee audiences, especially executives or ERG leaders. For larger cohorts of employees and people managers, they’ve designed self-paced digital learning exchanges to share best practices and facilitate discourse at scale. Learn more about scaling DEI training with Seramount’s digital or hybrid learning opportunities.  

12023 Seramount DEI Glossary

About the Author

Headshot James Cowling
James Cowling-Vega
Managing Director and Head of New Partner Development