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Beyond Diversity Training, It’s Time for Diversity Coaching

By Madhukar Govindaraju , Founder & CEO

Diversity has been a hot topic over the past years in the enterprise community. A diverse workplace, now, is not a fleeting trend but a key to get higher revenues, capture new markets, and drive meaningful innovation. However, diversity is more than just a buzzword. It is meant to motivate corporations to provide an equitable and inclusive environment to their employees. It is a strategic initiative that has to tackle the systemic barriers and microaggressions that disenfranchise certain groups that hope to create a more equitable workplace. 

Organizations now know that diversity training is essential since:

  • The Millennials and Gen Z, the dominant workforce in the enterprise, are the most diverse generation in history 
  • 67% of job seekers consider diversity an important factor while considering employment opportunities 
  • Organizations with a diverse workforce are more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians 
  • Organizations with ethnically and culturally diverse boards are 43% more likely to show higher profits 

The Diversity Conundrum – Diversity Training Doesn’t Work 

While diversity training is essential to help individuals recognize unfair treatment in the workplace, most organizations hold an annual diversity training session that merely pays lip-service to equality, inclusion, and diversity. This traditional model of diversity training does not contribute towards an equitable workplace and can often be disappointing and even counter-productive. 

This is primarily because of two reasons. Firstly, most diversity training programs are focused on creating awareness about hidden prejudices and biases, usually towards women and ethnic minorities. However, raising awareness alone does not change people’s behavior. 

Secondly, unconscious bias becomes hard to address with a day-long session. It is almost impossible to retrain the brain not to fall prey to prejudices that have been socially reinforced throughout our lives. 

That most diversity programs don’t increase diversity is quite clear. You just have to look at diversity statistics for that. But why are diversity training programs failing? It is because, for diversity to work, it needs behavioral change. 

Change Ahead – Diversity Coaching Leads the Way 

Diversity initiatives need behavioral change 

Most diversity training programs assume that people act offensively because they know no better. While this is largely true, unlearning deeply ingrained behavioral patterns is difficult. As such, organizations have to create an environment that has a shared understanding of why certain things are offensive, and secondly, and more importantly, builds a shared understanding of which behaviors and comments fall outside the purview of acceptance. 

Providing clarity on unacceptable verbiage and penalties for transgressions is important. But it is more important to coach people to build empathy and sensitivity to new concepts of identity, fairness, responsibility, and intent. 

Creating such a work environment demands a shift in views and mindsets and can only be achieved through continuous learning. Coaching thus becomes the perfect pair for driving diversity in the organization to make sure behavioral change supports diversity in the workplace. 

Create an understanding of diversity 

Diversity training is supposed to address how different people are represented across the organization. Simply asking people to ‘tolerate differences’ does not fit today’s workplace, one that is defined by the global scope and lightning-fast communication. 

Given the complex narrative, organizations have to now focus on helping the entire workforce understand how a diversity of thought and different approaches bring in new ideas and perspectives. At the same time, they need to help employees understand that they need to embrace diversity and not merely ‘tolerate’ it. 

Diversity coaching helps organizations distill the concept of diversity into the employees such that it becomes a learned behavior. It helps everyone across the board understand that everyone across the organization is working towards a common goal and creates a common bond. Diversity coaching helps people understand that all employees are like soldiers charging up a hill – unless everyone moves forward together, the initiative fails

Battle the impact of learned behaviors

Organizations also should lean towards diversity coaching to create better-learned behaviors while unlearning older behaviors that do not support diversity and progressive thinking. 

A good example of learned behavior would be this statistic – “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” Women often tend to do so as they don’t view the hiring process as one where “…advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications.”  

Acting on these beliefs leads women to leave opportunities on the table. They also often tend to build small deltas in their professional and personal growth by limiting career options. 

Coaching helps bring a step-change in these beliefs that people live by and helps them realize their true potential. It gives them the tools, support, guidance, and network needed to succeed and helps organizations integrate diversity strategies, associated policies, and expected behaviors to align with the organizational goals. All these activities collectively impact the diversity matrix positively. 

Address the key diversity dimensions

Diversity is not unidimensional. It has multiple key dimensions and can be successfully implemented only when all these dimensions are covered to develop a path that ensures an improved arc of change. Achieving this through superficial, day-long training is an overarching, if not an unrealistic, goal. 

Organizations thus need to first identify all the key dimensions that play into diversity. For example, in addition to the hiring process, organizations need to assess the other areas that impact diversity – how are promotions conducted? Are all women employees getting the right kind of leadership coaching? How is the representation in the high-potential candidate pipeline and the leadership pipeline? How well are learning needs being met to create a pipeline of leaders who have the right technical and critical skills? Are we creating powerful networks that enable people to foster their growth path?

Identifying all dimensions that control diversity, all the traits that impact diversity, and all the behaviors that drive diversity have to factor in to make diversity programs successful. Organizations thus have to become more intentional in designing their diversity coaching programs. These programs should be data-driven, should connect the right coach to the right learner, and identify the right needs of individuals to create tailored programs that are measurable and impactful.

Connect with us to see how our AI-powered coaching platform can power your diversity programs. After all, many have a vision of what diversity programs should look like. But the difference between vision and hallucination is implementation. 

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