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Women in STEM Q2 2023

The key to effective DEI training is measuring behaviour changes

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Meredith Gibson

Meredith Gibson

CEO, Association for Women in Science

HR leaders everywhere are working to build inclusive cultures so that they can hire and retain diverse talent. Unfortunately, some of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training they bring to their organisations is minimally effective.

A recent study of 3,000 DEI training participants conducted by the National Academy of Sciences determined that ‘standalone, one-off diversity training’ commonly used in organisations is unlikely to be effective for promoting workplace equality.

Similarly, research published in the Harvard Business Review argues that traditional DEI programs focus too much on raising awareness and promoting the business case for DEI. In other words, they fail to make a real, lasting impact. They help individuals become aware of their biases, but they stop short of helping employees counteract their biases.

Why we need to address unconscious biases

If unconscious biases are left unaddressed, DEI rules and policies cannot be applied to their fullest potential. For example, rules addressing equitable promotion will be ineffective without addressing an individual’s availability bias, the bias that will cause White men to be promoted disproportionately more often than other categories of people (Wysall, 2018; Arnold, Crawford and Khalifa, 2016). 

If unconscious biases are left unaddressed, DEI rules and policies cannot be applied to their fullest potential.

Creating an inclusive environment requires leaders and individual employees to 1) embrace the principles of DEI and 2) invest the time to identify and address unconscious biases. Changing behaviours is not a one-and-done proposition. Reprogramming deeply ingrained unconscious biases requires repeated engagements and practice.

Proven ways to instil real DEI

One way to accomplish this is to deliver daily reminders to employees, encouraging them to complete a short task. Through these small activities, employers can foster understanding, empathy and create new habits. One Fortune 100 financial services firm employed a programme like this to support its DEI initiatives. After following The Inclusion Habit® for just over two months, participants self-reported 90% more inclusive behaviour, 46% change in interactions, 35% improved mindfulness, 27% greater sense of community, 24% enhanced connection and 14% change in perceptions.

What programmes has your company used to promote DEI? How did you measure the ROI of these programmes? Inclusion programming without behaviour change can give individuals a short-lived, heightened awareness about inclusion and a false sense of achievement and crowd out more effective inclusion efforts.

Arnold, N. W., Crawford, E. R., & Khalifa, M. (2016). Psychological Heuristics and Faculty of Color: Racial Battle Fatigue and Tenure/Promotion. Journal of Higher Education, 87(6), 890–919.
Chang, E. H., Milkman, K. L., Gromet, D. M., Rebele, R. W., Massey, C., Duckworth, A. L., & Grant, A. M. (2019). The mixed effects of online diversity training. PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(16), 7778–7783.
Dobbin, Frank, and Alexandra Kalev. “DIVERSITY why diversity programs fail and what works better.” Harvard Business Review 94, no. 7-8 (2016): 52-60.
Whysall Z. (2018) Cognitive Biases in Recruitment, Selection, and Promotion: The Risk of Subconscious Discrimination. In: Caven V., Nachmias S. (Eds), Hidden Inequalities in the Workplace.

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