Over the last several months, most companies have been re-examining their diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, and with good reason. Black Lives Matter protests and other recent civil movements together with ongoing (and overt) systemic racism and sexism have shone a light on the lack of real progress. Workplace diversity and inclusion programs haven’t helped; in fact, recent data suggests they’ve done more harm than good.
So however well-intentioned, the latest round of listening sessions and town hall Zoom meetings combined with redesigned virtual workshops and eLearning modules are just more of the same solution that didn’t work last year or the previous five years.
That said, it is a massive challenge for any corporation to attempt to solve a problem produced by centuries of fear, colonialism, and history. I applaud the will and the effort put in so far. Training solutions focused on unconscious bias, situational awareness, and empathy have created a solid foundation for the next step: turning knowledge and theory into action.
From the perspective of learning and development, this next step – action – cannot be taken using traditional one-size-fits-all learning methods. Another group learning solution won’t be enough. No, the next learning solutions need to be applied at the individual level. In fact, they need to be applied at the level of the one-to-one conversation: that moment when two people confront a real problem, talk about it, and together build a solution. But let’s not kid ourselves; there is a lot of fear and angst associated with this type of conversation – and rightly so – it can be a difficult conversation. So, it’s also critical that training provide a safe space in which these conversations can be tried out before a real-world problem is on the table.
The solution I suggest is simple – practice: practice in a safe, private, non-judgemental environment where the only consequence of saying the wrong thing is learning; practice with a professional that is not a peer or a boss; practice with someone whose only agenda is helping you improve your ability to have these conversations. Practice in a way that is deliberate, structured, and delivered one-to-one. We all know that failing is the path to success and practice is controlled failure.
So, here’s my challenge: ask yourself, is building competence with diversity and inclusion conversations important enough to add the action of practice to your existing solution? And if you think that there’s no way you could obtain budget to have each of your leaders and managers practice these conversations in a safe one-to-one environment, then ask yourself about the cost of not preparing them, and your organization’s priority of addressing this issue.
More virtual workshops and listening sessions (aka ‘more of the same’) will not create the change we all need. This is a people problem that needs to be addressed one person at a time.