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Diversity training is an educational tool used by corporations and businesses to teach employees about how to best be productive and innovative team members in a workplace that crosses cultural, socioeconomic, and gender barriers. The main goal is usually to educate employees about different backgrounds, cultures, customs, and points-of-view in order to prevent offense or harassment. When done properly, it can help prevent any form of antagonism, real or perceived, related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Companies across all sectors make use of this sort of training, though the actual logistics can differ from place to place. Sometimes the exercises take the form of a lecture or informative pamphlet, but they can also involve role play, interactive seminars, and video presentations. Many companies make this sort of training mandatory and it’s usually required at regular intervals, like once a year or once a quarter. In some cases, the phrase “diversity training” can also be used to describe the sort of cultural training employees receive before they’re posted abroad; in this sense, the training is usually geared more towards learning about a specific culture and people rather than teaching tolerance and acceptance more generally.
Increasingly in many places, the modern workforce and society more generally are becoming more and more diverse. Another way of saying this is that they are becoming less homogenous, which basically means that employees and customers both are coming from an ever wider spread of backgrounds. Sometimes the differences are essentially invisible, such as socioeconomic status, nationality, or marital and familial status, but other times they’re evident right away; gender, race, and even age are usually apparent almost immediately. As a consequence, workers are more and more likely to work alongside, with, or for people who are markedly different from themselves. The main goal of diversity-oriented training is to help promote a workplace that’s happy and accepting, and where everyone feels comfortable.
In most cases, the training seeks to emphasize the advantages of employing people with various backgrounds and talents in order to provide a well-rounded working environment. Businesses typically can benefit from embracing diversity and taking advantage of skills that all the different types of employees possess. This type of training can provide a natural team building experience, increase the bond between co-workers, and remove unnecessary barriers.
There are usually a couple of different ways to approach the actual training, and most companies opt for something of a combination approach. Methods can change over time, as well, depending on what works and what seems to be the most effective for the people and groups at issue. Most of the time, the training involves a combination of video presentations, lectures, and opportunities for interactive role-playing and hands-on practice dealing and identifying potentially difficult situations. Sometimes employee participation is observed and rated by managers, and participants may also gent individualized feedback. More often, though, the training is more streamlined, seeking primarily to make people aware of situations that might require new or different approaches without requiring any direct participation.
One of the most important things this sort of training is typically designed to achieve is to make all employees feel welcomed, appreciated, and utilized for their talents. It not only educates by pointing out practices or phrases to avoid, but it also emphasizes the positive qualities that diversity brings to the workplace. Multiple perspectives, problem-solving ideas, and a variety of life experiences can all strengthen the efficiency and profitability of many different types of businesses.
There are also usually benefits when it comes to employee interactions with customers, particularly in service-oriented settings. Training receptionists, clerks, and service agents to be sensitive to and aware of the different backgrounds of their customers can prevent unintended offense, and can make the shopping and buying experience more accepting and, ideally, more profitable as a consequence.
It can also help save the company from discrimination lawsuits, which can sometimes arise if customers feel that they were treated differently because of something like race or gender. Training can’t necessarily prevent these sorts of claims, but helping employees be aware of triggering situations can make them less likely.
Additionally, diversity training can provide a middle ground for mediation and teaching people how to interact with those who are different. It can be challenging for a business to find a forum for communication and resolution of problems. This type of education can aid in the process and guide conflicting parties through reaching a compromise or mutual understanding.
Diversity training can also be a useful tool to educate employees that are preparing to complete business transactions in other countries. The cultural differences between people in different places can be vast and might make it extremely difficult to communicate, even if all parties speak a common language. Misinterpretation of customs and differing social norms can create difficulties in business interactions and negotiations. In this sense, training is often much more focused and channeled than in other settings where the aim is to teach tolerance and respect more generally.
What's great fun is to have some corporate lawyer give a diversity training seminar, make a couple of racist or sexist jokes during it and then try to weakly play them off as the types of things to avoid saying. Such behavior confuses employees, but it is dandy fun to watch.