Diversity in the workplace: Increase inclusion with immersive learning
In our latest ETU blog, we look at the tangible business benefits of diversity in the workplace and at how to increase inclusion with modern training strategies and immersive learning.
As many organizations started to return to business as usual in 2022 (albeit with a greater level of remote or hybrid working), some might expect complete focus on cost cutting in the search for profitability and efficiency - especially during economic uncertainty.
However, there is also pressure to modernize so that they do not get left behind in terms of digital transformation, and the call for greater diversity at all levels, including the boardroom, following social movements such as Black Lives Matter.
These pressures need not compete with each other, as companies looking to proactively increase inclusion in the C-Suite are known to see better business performance as a result.
Diversity = Profitability
The stats don’t lie: diverse workforces perform better - including at the executive level. In their study “Why Diversity Matters,” McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for gender-diverse executive suites were 15% more likely to generate above-average profitability compared to the bottom quartile - those with executive teams that were predominantly white males.
In a separate study, they found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their respective national industry’s median financial returns.
Growing awareness of these facts, alongside growing social pressures within companies and from their customers, is moving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) up the list of business priorities.
A Gartner survey of 550 HR leaders in July 2021 found that DEI would be in their top five priorities for 2022, so the will is there within many companies, but how do L&D and HR help to turn a desire for greater inclusion into a reality?
It all starts with better training and greater awareness of the barriers to inclusion and the methods to overcome them.
Strategy to deliver successful diversity training
Diversity and inclusion training has the potential to positively address biases and prejudice within organizations.
“At best, it can engage and retain women and people of color in the workplace, but at worst, it can backfire and reinforce stereotypes,” warned Katerina Bezrukova, Associate Professor at the University of Buffalo’s School of Management.
So, successful diversity training requires careful planning and sensitivity. Here are key points to consider when planning a training program to increase DEI in the workplace:
1. Establish principles for diversity and inclusion training
Developing a diversity and inclusion training program for your organization starts with a clear definition of what the program should include. A comprehensive program provides detailed ways to engage in respectful, positive workplace interactions while reducing discrimination, prejudice and unconscious bias based on factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status or disability.
Diversity and inclusion training programs should target all employees and address a range of issues, including cultural awareness, unconscious bias and microaggression. Good training should go far beyond simply tolerating differences and look at how embracing diverse perspectives brings tangible benefits to the bottom line of a business.
By doing so, diversity training can be perfectly aligned with the long term vision, values and immediate goals of the business.
Well-defined and visible diversity training efforts can be powerful tools in supporting both recruitment and employee retention, as well as contributing to a more productive workplace.
2. Include workers of all levels
Training should be offered to all employees, including leaders, at every level of the organization.
Lack of workplace diversity is most pronounced at the leadership level, so involvement in training among executives is essential to show that the whole organization is committed to positive change.
Even the company CEO needs to participate!
3. Tailor diversity and inclusion training to your organization
Diversity and inclusion training should be tailored to the needs and environment of the organization conducting it.
Corporate diversity training programs should be based on a deep understanding of the starting point, goals and challenges faced by your organization, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Each company must take the time to conduct fact-finding and data analysis of the make-up of its workforce and the current company culture, identifying any unresolved issues faced by various departments.
Anonymous surveys, focus groups and other audits are ways to gather data and qualitative information.
After careful research, data analysis, and goal setting, you can design a training program customized for the unique needs and culture of your company.
Rather than only going through abstract concepts such as discrimination and unconscious bias, putting across the business risks of a lack of diversity and the benefits of greater inclusion within the context of your company and its industry will engage learners much more.
4. Plan a multi-faceted approach to training
As with many types of subject matter, diversity training tends to be most effective when it is delivered through a variety of methods and media. This will help to cater to different learning preferences across individuals who may respond best to text, video, audio or hands-on interaction when it comes to absorbing and retaining new ideas and information.
Bezrukova’s research has shown that diversity programs have the greatest impact when they are delivered alongside related initiatives, such as mentoring or networking for minority professionals.
“When organizations demonstrate a commitment to diversity, employees are more motivated to learn about and understand these social issues and apply that in their daily interactions,” she said.
You can integrate DEI training with sessions that more broadly cover company culture, employee welfare and retention, or ongoing professional development. As a starting point, DEI training should absolutely be part of the new employee onboarding process as much as company vision.
Whether it’s through reading materials, videos and webinars, or more interactive learning such as gamification and immersive simulations, learner engagement should be at the forefront of L&D planning.
5. Maintain and evolve diversity and inclusion training over time
For DEI training to stay relevant to your organization, it needs to be updated and evolve with the make-up of your company over time. Otherwise, there is the risk it could become just a box-ticking exercise that employees fail to truly absorb.
“Diversity awareness and focus must be a part of a company’s culture in all aspects … For training to be effective, the message must be reinforced regularly, and managers must coach their employees when they see behaviors and attitudes that contradict an inclusive environment,” said Shane Green, author of Culture Hacker (Wiley, 2017).
Data gathering and both qualitative and quantitative analysis should be conducted periodically so that training can be tweaked to reflect the changing make-up of your workforce.
So this is the training challenge for L&D or HR managers, but how do you make progress happen in an effective, efficient and measurable way? Immersive learning and simulations should be a key part of the modern corporate training toolkit.
Immersive learning: Human skills training, tangible results
Immersive learning places the learner in an interactive environment that replicates possible real-life scenarios. This environment can be created on a computer screen or with physical technology, such as virtual reality headsets.
Roleplay scenarios, simulations and virtual worlds are all types of immersive learning experience.
Immersive learning can be ideal for human skills training in decision-making environments, as opposed to absorbing new information and following rigid processes. Immersive learning is also the right choice when you want to measure the tangible results.
The benefits of immersive learning simulations for diversity training include:
Immersive simulations allow learners to apply both conscious and unconscious decision making in true to life scenarios, and to see the impact of their actions within a safe practice environment.
Numerous studies, including notable research by Google, have shown that psychological safety is key to team success. If people feel free to try out new things and potentially make mistakes within a team dynamic, they are more likely to generate new ideas and drive positive change. Simulations provide that safe practice environment for employees to test themselves.
Scalable digital delivery
Immersive learning simulations can be rolled out at scale, even on a global level, without the physical constraints of logistics and resources that come with a classroom environment and instructor-led training (ILT). As content evolves with new priorities and training goals, digital learning can be quickly updated and rolled out regardless of location or time zone.
Learner analytics & behavioral insights
Immersive learning and simulation-based training can generate useful data for L&D or HR managers to identify areas for improvement. Learner analytics and the behavioral insights that can be gained allow managers to better support individuals or groups, and to improve training content that could be more effective or engaging.
Our own immersive learning solutions for DEI training have been shown to bring tangible impact and behavior change.
In addition to our off the shelf training content, ETU’s awarding winning immersive simulations are used by leading global brands to:
- Reduce the risk of unconscious bias
- Encourage empathy in discussion and decision making
- Display advocacy and proactive anti-racism
- Promote equity with feedback
- Build highly-inclusive teams
- Understand and guard against sexual harassment
- Improve communication
- Reduce gender inequality and encourage gender expression in the workplace
If you’re interested in exploring how our immersive learning solutions can help you to transform and future-proof organizational culture, contact us to learn more and discuss your needs.
Sowmya Sudhindranath, Chief Services Officer
Sowmya has 20+ years experience in the talent development industry, with expertise in building effective learning strategies and implementing them successfully. She is known for curating engaging experiences using learning technologies in diversity and inclusion, onboarding, reskilling, compliance, and leadership development. Her experience crosses many geographies and industries, and her programs have received multiple awards from industry associations.