I was recently asked about making a Diveristy & Inclusion (D&I) workshop mandatory.
Before I tell you what I said, I have a few questions for you to consider.
Questions for consideration:
1. What’s your criteria for making a training program optional?
I’m sure there are many answers to that question. Maybe if it’s personal interest, if it’s not pertinent to your role or to the success of the company. Perhaps if it’s not industry-related or if doesn’t fit into the mandatory criteria above.
My next questions are:
2. Are any of your trainings mandatory?
3. If so, which ones? And how do you decide?
I will venture a guess that health and safety-related trainings are mandatory, and that perhaps position/responsibility-related training is also required. There is training associated with accreditation and also training associated with certification. Both of these are likely also mandatory.
With that in mind, why would diversity training not be mandatory?
What is D&I training about?
D&I training is about the health and safety of the people you work with (or hope to work with) as well as your clients and customers. Working in an environment that doesn’t feel safe or where one doesn’t feel a sense of belonging is stressful. Stress produces cortisol which negatively impacts trust, formation of bonds and problem solving (among other things). It’s not meant to be in our bodies over the long term and also impacts health.
Benefits of inclusion:
An environment that is not inclusive is not good for business. Deloitte’s report The Diversity and Inclusion Revolutionstates that as inclusion increases, risk decreases, and that inclusion increases:
- Perceived team performance (17%)
• Decision-making quality (20%)
• Collaboration (29%)
My answer to the question
Here is part of my actual answer to that question:
First. If it’s a workshop, it’s meant to be a place to learn, explore and grow. It’s the perfect place to ask questions and voice concerns. Those that are resistant to change will show it anyhow — why not have them show it in a workshop where a facilitator can address their push back constructively? Plus, maybe they will leave with a bit more openness. Or not.
Then, what does it say when just because you disagree you get to opt out of something the company is committed to? What does making D&I training optional say about your commitment as a company or organization.
(By the way, having these difficult conversations is crucial to furthering and deepening your D&I commitment and awareness. So having some of these conversations role modeled can be helpful.)
Ah… but what if D&I goes against what someone believes in? Then what?
Let me tell you a story.
In 2012, I worked with Egale Canada. I wrote their curriculum for LGBTQ Safer Schools and trained high school staff across the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador (by the way, a shout out to NFLD: I don’t think any other province or territory has made that level of commitment).
We had three representatives (admin, teachers and often guidance counsellors) from each high school in the province come to a workshop. There were people in those rooms who didn’t “get it” and who didn’t want to be there. Did we tell them it was OK not to come? No.
There were also many participants who were on board, but who were worried about what staff, parents and students would say about the school committing to being an LGBTQ safer space. Often for religious reasons.
What is this work about?
What I said at each session in Newfoundland and Labrador was that this training was not about changing people’s minds. People have the right to believe what they believe. It was about being clear about the behaviour we expect from the staff, parents, and students at the school. And that it was also about becoming aware of the often serious consequences that come from spaces that aren’t safe and inclusive. LGBTQ youth, for example, have higher rates of suicide and attempted suicide (you can find more information on that here).
This is the same regardless of location.
When your company or organization is committed to D&I you set the bar for the behaviour you expect to see from your employees — and this can extend to the behaviour you expect from your clients as well. It’s not about changing what they believe. It’s about clarity around what you want your environment to feel like, and how people contribute to that culture.
When you are clear about how D&I fits into your company or organizational culture, when you are accountable, when you put measures in place to support and value real change and growth around D&I, then you have to make D&I training mandatory. It’s not an extra, and it’s not optional. It’s an integral component of a broader commitment and strategy that requires everyone’s participation to be effective.
PS – By the way, if you’re interested in real change re: D&I for your organization, I’m launching a program in 2019. Stay tuned for more info!