Successful D&I Training Requires Employees to Understand Their Internal Behaviors

May 21, 2019 Dawn Burke

3-minute read

I love to check items off a list. It feels great. So much so, that if I complete a task that was not originally on my list, I add it to the list just so I can check it off. Yeah, I've accomplished something. Want proof? Let me pull out my list for you.

Will I remember this list tomorrow? Not sure. More importantly, will I remember what I did to get essential items accomplished? I don't know.

While checking off tasks on a checklist is helpful in many contexts, a "check-the-box," "one-and-done" mentality doesn't work if you are trying to learn new concepts, change a habit, or understand behaviors. One-and-done also doesn’t work when you facilitate diversity and inclusion initiatives in your workplace. This is especially important to remember today, which the United Nations has designated World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

Panelists participating in the “Workplace as a Healing Ground” session at Workhuman® Live agreed. Howard Ross, founder of Cook Ross Inc. and author of “Our Search for Belonging: How Our Need to Connect is Tearing Us Apart,” explained how to create long-lasting D&I progression. "What good is training if there is nothing else to follow? [A singular, mandatory] training is a good recipe to keep people from doing stupid stuff but not good at keeping people talking about inclusion regularly," he said. 

Howard explained that the usual outcome of the first-generation, mandatory training was fear. "People got scared to say anything for fear it was wrong or offensive," he said. 

Communication breakdown is never good, especially when you’re trying to foster a diverse and inclusive culture. You have to understand the perceptions of those not like you and, more importantly, understand your own behaviors. You have to understand why you think as you do, the origins of certain behaviors, and what triggers them.

“What does change behavior is if you understand how you think, how the brain functions,” he explained. “Then your ‘better angels’ take over. Most bias happens not intentionally, but I end up hiring the person like me because I'm more comfortable with them.”

Just as HR learned the hard way with those awful sexual harassment training videos, you can't just push play and say, “don't do this,” when it comes to bias. Telling people what to do can cause more fear rather than progression. Moreover, when we don't explore our behaviors deeply enough, our human nature can get in the way of progress. 

"Human beings aren't rational, we are rationalizing," said Howard.

Indeed we are. If I can rationalize how a Dairy Queen Hawaiian Blizzard is good for me (it has pineapple in it, of course), then is it a far stretch to rationalize a biased hiring decision? Not really.  

To propel real inclusion in an organization, we must get beyond the mandatory, one-time training and create programs to unmask and understand our individual behaviors. Once we know what motivates our behaviors, together we can all make real strides in creating an inclusive workforce.

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About the Author

Dawn Burke

Dawn Burke is an HR leader with 20 years of experience and the founder of Dawn Burke HR.

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