Close

Sign up to get the latest news and stories on the future of work.

Subscribe Search

Search form

In April, at a Sephora store in Calabasas, California, a store associate allegedly called security to make sure a customer wasn't stealing.

That customer was African American singer-songwriter Sza, who tweeted about the incident and accused Sephora of racial profiling. Sephora representatives responded saying that they were looking into it. And then they shut down stores for bias and diversity training—although the company says the training had been planned in advance and was not related to the viral tweet.

If this series of events sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because something similar happened at Starbucks last year when a manager called the police on two black men who were waiting without ordering. In response, Starbucks shut down for a company-wide bias training.

These responses to bias incidents may get a lot of press coverage, but there are more effective ways to go about diversity and inclusion training. These trainings should not just happen once, nor should they happen only once something goes wrong. Instead of reacting to an incident of bias or discrimination, companies should take a more preventative approach.

1) Include D&I Training in New Hire Orientation

If you're a stable law firm, for example, you can probably get away with doing one diversity training per year. But for an industry with high turnover like retail or media, where employees come and go more frequently, you will need to train workers early and often so that every employee has the bias training they need to do their job effectively—whether they stay at your organization for five months or five years. Introducing diversity and inclusion training as part of the onboarding process will decrease the likelihood of bias incidents at your company and show new hires that you are serious about diversity and inclusion from the start. Consider adding a diversity and inclusion component to your onboarding materials and make D&I trainings accessible to employees through a learning portal.

2) Focus on How Employees Should Act (Not What They Should Think)

While unconscious bias training like Starbucks' or Sephora's have gained traction as common responses in crisis management, these trainings can actually backfire. In a 2017 Medium post, founder and CEO of Amaechi Performance Systems, John Amaechi calls unconscious bias training a "get out of jail free card." Management can pat themselves on the back and say, "Look, we did a thing!" But to truly change the status quo, it will take more than checking boxes.

When it comes to bias, stop trying to change the way employees think and instead focus on how they should act toward clients, customers and one another. For example, encourage employees to think before they call security on a customer. Has the customer actually committed a crime or does your employee just suspect that they could commit a crime? Once employees understand the expectations you have around how they should behave, they are more likely to think twice before inserting their own bias into a situation.

3) Don't Underestimate the Power of a Good Manager

Good bosses set the tone for their employees, so if they are committed to creating a culture of diversity and inclusion, it will likely trickle down to the people who work under them. Hiring good managers can help you keep good employees who care about their work and their colleagues. Ensure you are consistently hiring good managers by asking questions about diversity in the interview process and considering any past experience they have creating inclusive corporate cultures.

A one-time training won't have a long term impact unless you follow up with a diversity training strategy that defines diversity in broad terms and lays out a comprehensive, structured and continuous curriculum. If you prioritize diversity and inclusion from the top down, employees will follow your lead.

Photo: Creative Commons