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Rethinking Learning to Drive Diversity in the Workplace
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Rethinking Learning to Drive Diversity in the Workplace

Cornerstone Editors

MARCH 31, 2021

2020 was a time of disruption: both in how we worked, and in how we thought about ourselves and our ideas of diversity and belonging. Companies haverenewed their commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace, with U.S. companies alone spending $8 billion a year on DEI training. And according to Jeff Miller, Chief Learning Officer at Cornerstone, there’s a noticeable change is taking place in these efforts:

"We’re seeing that people are moving with the world of DEI from more extrinsic motivation—compliance, you have to do it—to a more intrinsically-motivated mindset and driving curiosity," he said during a recent customer webinar.

And that curiosity is driving employees to learning content. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) are the most popular topics in Cornerstone’s Culture and Compliance library, which serves more than 75 million global learners. Miller says learning should be a priority for all companies looking to boost their DEIB strategy. It’s not enough for Human Resources and Learning & Development teams to buy in; managers must learn to oversee inclusive teams, and to facilitate learning opportunities for employees.

The best place to start? Make impactful learning content available to everyone.

"Good content enables impactful discussion and triggers new ways of thinking. Together, these deepen the internalization of information and knowledge, and stimulate growth," Miller says. "Good content gives us the vocabulary and the core tools to lean into deepening our knowledge. Unified language opens people's eyes to be able to talk, learn and grow, strengthening organizational culture."

Moving Beyond Diversity as a "Numbers Game"

Together, Miller and other participants in the panel—including Head of Cornerstone Studios, Summer Salomonsen—discussed how to frame, create and utilize learning content more effectively toward diversity initiatives.

Miller said he does worry that some leaders still see diversity as "a numbers game." "The piece that many people seem to be forgetting is that it’s these unique and different experiences of how people self-identify that enable individuals to look at the same business process, the same product, the same people strategy, but interpret it differently," Miller says. "When we diversify perspectives, we’re able to see work differently."

Companies with more diversity are not just seen as more desirable to work for, but really outperform their competitors, Miller says. Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers, and companies with gender diversity are 15% more likely to do the same. And, inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. Innovation is more likely to occur when there are diverse voices to bring deeper understanding to challenges. And learning content can be key to bringing these voices to light.

However, it’s important to note that content itself is not a solution for diversity, but rather a tool to be put to use, says Salomonsen. "Content is a way to open dialogue, catalyze opportunities and give your people ways to say ’This should be different,’ or ’I’m concerned about this,’ or ’I want to be better in this way,’" she says. "We need to open the dialogue, and content is a great way to do that."

Using Content to See Your Business Through a Diversity Lens

Learning content does more than just provide information—it stimulates thought and helps create lasting habits. According to Salomonsen, content should not be seen as homework. "Content should challenge you in some way," she explains. "You should leave it thinking differently. You should leave it springboarded into a new behavior or a new mindset."

Salomonsen says the "old way" to develop diversity training was through in-person programs that often involved role play and dialogue, focusing on a goal of "respecting others." Often, the learning was abstract and employees would leave wondering how to apply what they had learned to their jobs immediately and on a day-to-day basis.

Similarly, compliance training can be "dry, boring, legalistic, check-this-box, you gotta get it done," she says. "And yet the goal is, we want to help our employees make better decisions in the moment. We want to protect them and keep them safe."

So, Summer and her team took a different approach to creating DEI learning. They developed a new strategy that would not only make the content more engaging, it would also make sure DEIB content permeated the organization. In addition to standalone resources, DEIB content is also included in professional skills and leadership learning content as well. "We decided as a team that DEI was not just a topic, it was a way that we wanted to see and create content, and it’s a way to do business," she says.

All training on DEI rests on four pillars: unconscious bias, bystander intervention, empowering employees and building trust within teams. The goal is to empower employees to make better in-the-moment decisions and build trust within teams with the goal of creating psychological safety—a foundational element of company culture.

Bringing a Learning Mindset to DEIB

A learning mindset is integral to DEIB efforts, Miller explains—including the understanding that companies might never get it 100% right. The goal is to improve the ability to see differences that may be visible or invisible, he says.

Learning is a powerful tool for companies to ensure that their DEIB strategy goes beyond surface-level events. "If we believe in diversity as a tool to enhance perspectives of those in the room, we will be better, full stop," Miller says.

Learn more about how Cornerstone’s diversity content subscription can help support a more inclusive and equitable workforce.

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