For seven years when I worked at a nonprofit, harassment training meant popping in a VHS tape for my team and sitting through cringe-worthy scenarios filled with innuendos and bad puns. People would leave thinking, "Hey, I've never been harassed,” or “I'm not a harasser, this doesn’t apply to me."
Our diversity training felt similarly abstract. One in-person session might bring up feelings of guilt, frustration, confusion or anxiety, but you’d leave wondering, "So how do I talk about this? What does this mean for my work?"
This old way of training clearly wasn’t having a meaningful impact on employees. And unfortunately, it’s the experience of many workers across all types of organizations.
As head of Cornerstone Studios, I’ve had the opportunity to make these types of training more valuable and actionable.
My team knew that if we could focus on the best of diversity training — getting people to inherently communicate better — we could help employees really understand how to interact with each other at work. We’d also be able to move organizations beyond just checking a box and give them practical ways to infuse diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into all areas of their business.
4 foundational elements of great diversity content
No matter what you're training, an environment that facilitates conversation is key. That comes back to a manager's empowerment to say, "How can we collectively get better at this? How can I facilitate this conversation for the betterment of our team and our organization?"
Our creative team at Cornerstone Studios is dedicated to creating learning content to help frontline managers build the space for these meaningful conversations. With that in mind, we’ve identified the four most essential components that all DEI training should incorporate.
1) Unconscious bias: Fixing what you can’t see
Perhaps the most important takeaway from diversity training should be that we all have biases and blind spots.
In the workplace, we’re constantly interacting with different people. Many times we inadvertently or subconsciously engage in ways that are offensive or off-putting, resulting in people feeling put down or creating division.
It can be scary to recognize that you have unconscious bias. And it can be scary for an employee to say the wrong thing at the wrong moment. But by learning how to recognize where blind spots might get in the way, we can learn to have more moments of meaningful conversation.
Plus, recognizing that you have bias is the first step toward being able to take action — regardless of your level in the organization. One of our top executives took an unconscious bias training. He told us in no uncertain terms: “Before I took it, I would have sworn to you that I wasn't biased. And now I swear that I am...full stop.”
If we can get people to leave the training with a new insight about themselves and then some tangible ways to improve that are practical, that's how you create real change.
2) Bystander intervention: Diverting attention effectively
Many workers have a decent sense of what situations and language are inappropriate for the workplace. But while a lot of learning content focuses on identifying those behaviors, we really wanted to answer the question: If you encounter troubling behavior at work, how should you react to it?
Most people associate sexual harassment with overt, almost assault-like interactions. And that can happen, but what happens far more often are the subtle things or the conversations in the room when no one else is there.
Those are the types of things that we wanted to disrupt — by knowing how to shift attention from the offending behavior and throwing a lifeline to someone who might feel uncomfortable.
It could be something as simple as dropping a coffee cup in a tense situation, or simply cutting in to ask, “Hey, Angela, can I talk with you for a minute?” if you notice someone who might be receiving inappropriate attention who needs an “out.” You don’t need to be a hero, but you should feel confident in how a small step might help.
3) Empowering employees: Boosting good judgment
Maybe there’s been a time at work when you’ve felt like you should have acted to call out discrimination or bias, but didn’t feel like you could — either you weren’t sure if it was the right moment to step in, or if you had the authority to.
Training is a great way to empower your employees to use good judgment to make these types of decisions. It can help people learn how to create opportunities to influence situations without needing to be the person “in charge.” By supporting team accountability, you’re also positioning employees to drive change from within.
One example I often think about is, before the pandemic, a video surfaced of a paying passenger who was forcibly dragged off an overbooked flight. Plenty of frontline employees witnessed this happen. Would the situation have looked different if they had had training and felt empowered to make a different decision in the moment?
4) Building trust in teams: Creating cultures of inclusion
If team members feel safe discussing issues and problems, and if they feel safe raising concerns, they are more likely to be comfortable talking openly about mistakes and how to learn from them. They’ll feel empowered to raise your hand and say, “This doesn’t feel right. Are we doing the right thing?” They’ll want to work together to discover any underlying assumptions that might be interfering with progress.
A simple psychological safety survey is a great way to take the pulse of how comfortable your teams feel about embracing new ideas or talking through problems.
I pride myself on having built a team that is highly collaborative and highly autonomous at the same time, which is a tricky balance. But over time, I’ve realized I have a bias toward people who are willing to speak up in meetings and speak fast. I’m like that, so that’s what I’m comfortable with.
But one of my direct reports recently called me out on it. She told me I move on too quickly in meetings, without allowing space for everyone to participate. It was so powerful because we had trust in our relationship. It took a lot of trust for her to tell me that, but it was important feedback for me to hear and learn how to adjust my behavior.
The benefits of building dialogue in the workplace
Learning content by itself is not a solution to all diversity or compliance issues, but, if done right, it can set your employees on a better path.
When diversity training is rooted in these four pillars, there’s space for dialogue to flourish. It’s easier to build a workforce of empowered employees willing to admit their bias, take action, work together and speak out — communicating clearly and interacting respectfully.
Our own team has taken a lot of these lessons to heart, scanning all our content programs for areas where bias might be creeping in and calling it out when we see it.
We’ve pushed ourselves looking beyond for opportunities to authentically bring diversity to even more of our content; for example, there’s no reason why a person who uses a wheelchair can only host a training video on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Perhaps most crucially, building workplace diversity strategies around these pillars can help create a safe environment for dialogue in the workplace.
That can be hard, but no one is beyond this. No one eliminates unconscious bias. No one graduates from these topics. These are not skills that can be broken out into entry-level, intermediate and advanced designations. These are skills that we all need to revisit for our entire careers.
The point of creating psychological safety is not to shame people who might have biases. It’s to accept that these biases exist and we all have them. It’s to have meaningful dialogue about how to respect your coworkers. It’s to apologize when you’ve been hurtful. It’s to commit to doing and being better.
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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development
There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.
Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today
When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.
Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated
Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock