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The Value of Training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Hannah Webster

Strategic Communications Director, Forum One

Acacia Betancourt

Senior Designer, Forum One

Last year, Forum One began taking steps to create an intentional culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within our organization. This work requires taking an honest look at how racism, privilege, and oppression show up in our corporate culture. It requires acknowledging blindspots and a commitment to work toward change. It also requires leadership buy-in and dedicated time and resources. More recently, we conducted an all-staff training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion focused around establishing what DEI means at Forum One, specifically with an anti-racist lens and unconscious bias (more on that later) to help ensure all staff members have a shared vocabulary and context for how Forum One is approaching its DEI efforts. Here are our key takeaways, recommendations, and lessons learned.

Why conduct all-staff training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Before we started, we asked ourselves a few key questions about the intent of our training. What do we want the outcomes to be? What is important that our team understand about our organization’s DEI work?  It’s important to know these things going in. When conducting our all-staff training, we wanted to do the following.

Create a shared DEI vision.

Training creates a baseline for the whole staff. Staff come to the training with different backgrounds, lived experiences, and understandings of what DEI means, and of concepts like privilege or anti-racism. All-staff training sets the standard and expectations for how an organization is approaching DEI and what it means for its team. Some staff will be well-versed in these concepts, while others will never have had an in-depth conversation about race or other axes of privilege before. Training gets everyone on the same page, and creates shared language, especially around the meaning of terms like “equity” at an organization. 

Make our organization’s commitment to anti-racism and DEI clear to staff.

All-staff training can help establish an organization’s stance on and prioritization of DEI topics, like anti-racism. Training content should be tied clearly to specific organizational values and culture to make it clear that DEI concepts are not abstract; they apply directly and explicitly to the work staff do, and how they interact with each other, as well as partners, clients, and stakeholders.  

Encourage ongoing staff engagement.

DEI training requires staff to talk to each other about important topics. It helps with relationship building, communication, and empathy. These trainings are a chance to bring people together who may not typically work together to hear different perspectives or experiences. We consistently heard in the feedback survey sent after the training that one of the most valuable aspects was the small group discussions and breakout sessions. 

Lessons learned in conducting staff training

We did some things well, and there are some things we might do differently if we were to do it over.  Below are key things to keep in mind when planning an all-staff training. 

Training should be mandatory.  

You need buy-in at all levels, from C-suite to your most junior staff members. Prior to our all-staff training, we conducted tailored training sessions with our leadership team, our DEI team, and our staff managers. This meant that our DEI training had a consistent message, and the full support of leadership at all levels to provide a clear framework for what DEI means to Forum One and how we will continue these efforts moving forward.  All staff were required to participate to ensure they understand what it means to be part of these efforts.

Discomfort is part of learning. 

Remember that your staff will have different levels of exposure to these topics. Start with the basics and define your terms, as well as the training “norms” you’d like everyone to follow (like being respectful of all voices, accepting non-closure, and leaning into discomfort). It is okay—and even necessary—for the training to feel uncomfortable for some staff, but we recommend easing people into topics like white supremacy. If you make the training too jarring or “advanced” too soon, some staff may get defensive, which will make them stop listening and less likely to learn. Make the training approachable and easy to follow—this will ensure you capture as many people’s attention as possible and will help cultivate better participation. 

You have a variety of perspectives around the table.

All-staff training is a learning experience for everyone. However, because you will have people with varied experiences or knowledge levels in the room (or on the screen), it is important to think about how small groups or discussion groups are created. Put thought into who is in which group to avoid a situation where someone who is in a minority group is put in the position of having to speak for everyone in their group or do the emotional labor of having to educate their coworkers.  Generally, we recommend grouping people who are alike for the more sensitive discussions and people who may be very different from each other and can learn from one another’s differences for more open discussions. 

Make it as interactive as possible to keep people engaged.

Our training consisted of a mix of “teaching,” where our facilitator was speaking on a topic with accompanying slides, and activities where we encouraged participants to answer questions in the chat, take polls, do activities on sheets of paper, watch videos and discuss them in small groups, or do homework. The more engaging and interactive the training, the more people will learn and be able to reflect on their own experiences. 

Plan accordingly for the investment involved.

All-staff training requires a significant investment of time and budget for the organization. We strongly recommend bringing in an external moderator to conduct the training who can bring DEI-specific expertise to the conversations. Our training was conducted by our DEI consultant, who has worked with Forum One since the beginning of our DEI journey, and with whom we have a long-standing relationship. You should also consider staff training costs, including the time needed for planning and organization, and commit to the expense (ours consisted of three hours for 120 staff members, plus dedicated planning time for DEI team members). 

Because the planning needed is quite extensive, we recommend designating one or two staff members to help with planning and give them the time and space to do it well (they will be voluntarily doing this work on top of their normal workload). In addition, get a few members of the staff to help with the workshop content to ensure that it resonates as well as possible with your specific work culture.  

Scheduling can be a challenge! Block of time on calendars a few months in advance, if possible, and make it clear that attendance is required. 

In-person training is ideal—but you can do it remotely too.

We had originally intended to conduct in-person training, but the COVID-19 crisis made that impossible. We found ways to make remote training work effectively, but it required a lot of coordination. We didn’t want people sitting in front of their computer getting an all-day training so we broke it up into two 90-minute sessions, one week apart.

This also meant we had to think about how to keep people engaged—both during and in between the sessions. We assigned homework in between the two sessions to keep learning going, and we made participation expectations clear in remote training. This included setting “norms” for the conversations (e.g., intent vs. impact, respect confidentiality, expect non-closure) and finding ways for everyone to participate, including encouraging people to be on camera if possible, and using chat,  Zoom polling features, breakout rooms, and reactions (like raising hands). Providing a variety of ways for staff to participate in the training sessions allowed different personalities to engage in their own way, which is one of the ways we made the training more inclusive.

Think about if starting with unconscious bias is right for your organization.

We started with unconscious bias training.  If we had it to do again,  we would have created a training focused more explicitly on anti-racism and systemic oppression in our culture and society. Community equity partners say, “Implicit bias trainings are insufficient. They tend to focus on individual behaviors, biases, and actions. They do not address structural, institutional, and cultural ways of racism, white supremacy, and anti-blackness are embedded in every aspect of US society.” In the current cultural moment, we have a particular responsibility to examine how these structural problems show up in our own organization’s culture and systems, therefore educating our staff around their role in those systems is a central priority in our DEI efforts.

Keep going

All-staff training is just the first step. It creates a baseline for future work and conversations, and establishes the understanding with staff that their education around DEI will be ongoing. Here are a few ways to plan for what’s next.

Solicit feedback from staff immediately after the training. 

It’s important to understand what resonated with people, what didn’t, and what they felt might be missing. Give people a way to provide feedback anonymously so they can be candid and request it directly after the training while it’s still fresh in their minds. Their feedback will help you gain more insight into the level of understanding and personal perspectives your staff has and will help inform the content and format of future training.

Commit to ongoing learning for your staff. Training is just a start.

Make sure your organization isn’t just trying to “check a box” by doing a training. This can seem performative or too surface-level. Your commitment to anti-racism and equity for all should be an ongoing effort, of which training is one part. Make sure you’re establishing a plan for the future—your staff will want to know what comes next. The more you can get staff members involved in ongoing efforts, the more they will feel a sense of ownership over this work, and the more effective the work will be.  

Written By

Hannah Webster

Strategic Communications Director, Forum One

Acacia Betancourt

Senior Designer, Forum One

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