Changing attitudes toward diversity training

Fighting resistance, cynicism a common reality
By Laraine Kaminsky
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/25/2006

The benefits of diversity are clear. Most of the


500 companies have clear diversity strategies that are directed from the top down along with strong training programs to communicate the importance of diversity to all employees.

For organizations to succeed in attracting, retaining and developing a diverse talent pool, they have to create a culture of inclusion where different styles of working, communicating or managing are integrated and respected. Diversity training can increase awareness of these differences and help foster an inclusive work environment. This will help reduce absenteeism, turnover, disrespectful behaviour and lawsuits. But though the benefits are obvious, many organizations are unsure as to the best way to approach diversity training.

A good place to start is at the leadership level. This puts leaders in a position to recognize and value the diversity of their employee base. Having committed leaders who “walk the talk” when it comes to diversity can help avoid “flavour-of-the-day” cynicism when the training is cascaded down to all employees.

For diversity training to be truly effective, all employees should be encouraged to attend. Involving complete teams together, or teams across the organization with similar primary objectives, is a good practice. The training needs to be customized and relevant, so it resonates with the audience and applies to each participant’s daily work experience.

Resistance and cynicism in diversity training is a common reality in many organizations. To fight this, organizations need to be proactive. Communication and the quality of the training can decrease resistance among employees.

Communication: Communicate clearly and explicitly the rationale for the training.

Some organizations explore and implement diversity training because legislation requires them to ensure equal opportunity and compliance. In this context, extra care must be given to the marketing and framing of a training intervention.

Communicating a consistent and engaging message of inclusion will support employee buy-in and enhance the impact of the training.

Quality of training: In order to minimize cynicism, the actual training has to be exceptional, interesting, engaging and relevant to every participant. The participants will then become advocates for the training. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising.

Diversity includes a number of obvious things, such as race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, culture religion, age and ability. But with the changing demographics, generational diversity is also coming to the forefront.

Any of these can have a huge impact on individual performance or on the organization as a whole. Diversity training can be an opportunity to increase knowledge, respect and build a more inclusive environment where employees can contribute to their fullest potential. Diversity training, which is part of a diversity strategy, can be leveraged to support other organizational goals such as retention, customer satisfaction and productivity.

Laraine Kaminsky is the executive vice-president of Graybridge Malkam, an Ottawa-based diversity consulting firm. She can be contacted at

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