Diversity and inclusion (D&I) training is top-of-mind for companies today. As employers commit to improving D&I within their organizations, there’s rising awareness of the important role education and training plays. While structural changes to hiring and promotion practices can reduce bias and barriers, companies at all levels realize that creating a culture of inclusion and belonging is required to retain top talent. Diversity and inclusion training proactively arms employees with the knowledge and skills they need to create an inclusive workplace.

A dedication to diversity and inclusion training is not only the right thing to do—it’s also good for business. An environment where employees feel psychological safety and a sense of belonging will not only increase productivity and boost retention rates, but also enhance your employer brand by signaling that your company is a welcoming place to work for diverse candidates. A more diverse workforce has also been proven to increase innovation and business results. According to Scientific American, decades of studies show that diverse groups are more innovative, while research from consulting firm McKinsey finds that companies with a diverse workforce are more likely to have above-average financial returns.

Now that we understand the benefits, how do we create an effective diversity and inclusion training program? We spoke with Taytiana Welch-McClure, Indeed’s Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Education Specialist, to learn more.

How to Create a Diversity and Inclusion Training Program

1. Conduct a needs assessment.

While there may be a sense of urgency to take action, it’s important to take a step back to start, and think strategically about your D&I efforts. First, conduct a needs assessment to establish your organization’s specific D&I challenges and opportunities. Welch-McClure says it’s important to reflect on the reasons why you’re creating the program in the first place: What organizational changes do you want to see? Are you creating this training program because of a specific incident that occurred, or are there broader systemic barriers that need to be addressed?

To answer these questions, you’ll need to collect feedback from your staff, and examine your diversity data. Provide a variety of options for employees to share candid input — such as group discussions and confidential surveys — to better understand how diversity, inclusion and belonging manifest within your organization.

2. Develop a diversity and inclusion strategy.

Any training program you build should be part of a larger strategic effort. Offering an online course about bias and calling it a day won’t create a culture of belonging. For example, if your needs assessment uncovers a lack of racial diversity in your engineering department, you’ll want to develop an action plan to address this issue, like broadening where you source engineering talent, or implementing a rubric-based scoring system to mitigate bias in interviews — in addition to providing unconscious bias training.

As you develop your diversity and inclusion strategy, it’s also worth considering broader systemic inequities in the various locations where you may operate. This will help you better identify the role your company can play in correcting imbalances. “Anti-Black racism is currently being reckoned with, especially in the U.S. and Western European countries,” Welch-McClure says. “Companies that don’t acknowledge this may miss the mark.”

3. Customize training based on your diversity and inclusion goals.

Now that you’ve established a strategy using your findings, it’s time to align a training program with your stated goals. Diversity and inclusion training can focus on interpersonal practices — like how to have difficult conversations and practice allyship — or more systemic issues like racial equity and social justice. Incorporate teaching methods like interactive exercises or group discussions to engage participants, and supplement any in-person workshops with online courses to reinforce learning.

Welch-McClure highlights the importance of focusing on skills-based learning: “Training that’s action-based is going to yield better outcomes because people leave with concrete actions they can practice immediately.” Increasing awareness of unconscious bias won’t necessarily change outcomes, but arming participants with tangible steps they can take to mitigate bias can have a more positive effect.

4. Identify and train facilitators.

Once you know what type of training you’ll need to support your goals, how do you put it into practice? Some companies may have the resources needed to employ a full team of subject matter experts, educators and trainers in-house. Others will need to outsource, or use a combination of internal and external education providers. If you do decide to outsource, just be sure to look for qualifications like subject matter expertise and facilitation experience. 

And even if you hire external facilitators, Welch-McClure notes the importance of upskilling your own internal HR employees, too. “It’s important to provide supplemental training to HR staff. When a company begins to value D&I, inevitably topics will surface that need to be looked at through a D&I lens, so it's best to equip HR in advance. Employee relations issues may be more nuanced than they previously acknowledged.”

5. Launch your training program.

So you’ve selected your facilitators, topics and teaching methods — you’re now ready to launch your diversity and inclusion training program. Keep in mind that this is something you can (and should) adapt and grow over time to meet your organization’s evolving D&I needs. Let’s look at some do’s and don’ts that will help you set up your training program for long-term success.

Do’s and Don’ts of Diversity and Inclusion Training

  • Do: Include training as part of a holistic, well-funded D&I program. Building diversity, inclusion and belonging into your company culture can’t be done with education alone. 
  • Do: Provide training for all employees, including executive-level leadership. 
  • Don’t: Place the burden of D&I education on marginalized employees. Proactively provide educational resources to supplement training so employees are empowered to learn on their own. 
  • Do: Use a variety of teaching methods to engage participants, including lectures, group discussions, interactive exercises and individual self-reflection.
  • Don’t: Use diversity and inclusion training as a one-time, check-the-box action for compliance or PR purposes. It should be offered on a continuous basis. D&I education is a journey, not a destination.
  • Do: Strategically think about D&I like you would any other important business goal. Establish action plans and accountability throughout the year to reinforce training.

By establishing a strategic training program, you’ll begin to engrain diversity, inclusion and belonging into your company culture and create an environment where all employees — and your business — thrive.