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Rhoda McVeigh contributed this How-to article, published in MaineBiz April 15th

Over the last year, in addition to dealing with COVID-19, employers became much more aware of the business case for strengthening their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies and employee training.

This was influenced in great part by the global Black Lives Matter movement. Employees at all levels became activists within their companies in the desire to instill in their leaders a sense of urgency to actively stand for true and sustained Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We HR professionals also realized it was the right time to update not only our companies’ DEI policies but also our diversity training.

So, what does an effective diversity training program look like?

Leadership from the top: Without a CEO’s authentic endorsement, neither the policy nor the training will be embraced by the employees.

A training program: It requires a trainer with credibility to facilitate the training program, someone who does this type of training professionally and can speak to the challenges of implementing a sustained DEI strategy throughout the company. The training must clearly communicate how it relates to the over-arching DEI corporate strategy.

Positive reinforcement: Focus the training on how to work well with each other regardless of our differences versus focusing on the differences themselves and thereby reinforcing stereotypes.

Involvement at all levels: Be sure to include all levels of management and make participation mandatory. If possible, co-mingle various levels of employees so senior managers are seen actively participating. Also endeavor to ensure each session has a representative mix of race, gender, age, experience, etc.

Active participation: Inform participants upfront they will be asked to “act” on what they learn during the training. Include time at the end of the training to brainstorming action steps.

Follow up: Be sure to follow up `after the training is completed. It can be difficult to internalize and apply training after attending a one to two-hour session. Regular reminders, action suggestions and communication of company-wide DEI initiatives will help develop and sustain the skills and behaviors discussed during the training.

Accountability: Enroll leaders in a commitment to coach their employees when they see behaviors or attitudes that contradict an inclusive environment. Ensure there is a plan in place to manage employees who contribute to a culture of bias and discrimination.

Resources: Curate a library of resources that employees can access to further educate themselves about DEI. Books, websites, podcasts, and social media influencers can offer additional perspectives and deeper understanding.

Diversity training has had its critics over the years, but poorly designed and executed training produces poor and ineffective results. The benefits of well-designed diversity training can elevate employee morale and retention, boost sales and other productivity measures, and lead to real financial gains. And it’s the right thing to do.