Over the last decade, growing awareness of diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been welcome, but it presents us all with a challenge. No one wants to be a box, and no one wants to be a box ticker - the change has to be real, and fundamental. There are complex structures to be unpicked, and at the heart of them? Us. Real people.
Human beings are, for the most part, empathetic. But sometimes we have to understand things for ourselves, before we can really feel them.
As businesses take measures to ensure better representation, all employees need to feel confident in how they relate. Even if everything seems alright on the outside, consider, for example, the 2019 study by the TUC that found over 70 percent of ethnic minority workers had experienced racial harassment at work. It is of course vital that previously under-represented groups feel welcome and valued, but D&I training also helps employees across the board to feel comfortable talking openly about D&I issues in an appropriate way; understanding unconscious bias, and embracing all the ways in which a diverse workplace can benefit everyone.
When people have effective D&I training initiatives supporting them, they feel more relaxed and happy in the workplace, and in life. So, what do we mean by effective? Well, experiences that allow people of all backgrounds to explore the power of vulnerability; sessions that give people the space to experience the bravery of saying ‘I don’t know.’ That’s when the conversation can start, and the learning can begin.
We all know that a melting pot of perspectives is great for business - but that can only work if everyone is on board and on an equal footing. If you are taking genuine steps to include multiple perspectives in your company’s vision, you’ll be reaching those demographics and gaining respect from all corners. These trainings help management to identify and accommodate an employee’s unique needs, as well as their strengths and foibles - fostering an environment where every employee feels valued and useful in their work.
We are taught from an early age about the survival of the self - school is all about grades, ambitions, and personal achievement. That then infiltrates into our adult lives, so we find it hard to get back to what comes naturally to us as a species - community.
I used to work for a company who’s staff turnaround was like a fairground carousel - without the nice painted horses. Everyone was out for themselves. Everyone, without exception, was miserable. Rigid frameworks within the education system are often mirrored in the systems and structures companies operate in. So D&I training not only helps marginalised groups feel included, valued and accepted as their authentic selves; but also, by proxy, permits others who've existed within quite a rigid paradigm previously, to showcase these elements of themselves too.
And that really impacts staff retention. By investing in it, you are building a team. And a real team can only be founded on mutual respect and understanding. D&I training generates Allyship - essentially, we fight each other’s battles. Marginalised groups get a break from defending themselves, but wellbeing is actually bolstered for all parties. Camaraderie is a tonic. You’re getting that job satisfaction; you’re spending your days innovating and socialising with your peers in a convivial environment. You’re going to feel good, right?
And of course, it all bleeds into your life outside work too…
I was on the tube with a friend once. She had recently taken on a community engagement role within an organisation. The D&I training she took part in prompted her to learn a little BSL so she could communicate on a more equal footing with her deaf colleagues. There were two tourists signing opposite us. As the train lurched and the lights flickered off (as Londoners well know, this is an everyday occurrence) they seized in terror. My friend leant in gently and signed ‘Don’t worry, it happens all the time.’ The smiles on all their faces said it all. In this moment of Allyship, the tourists felt welcome and safe, and my friend felt the warm glow of connection and community.
This is about self-esteem, but it’s also about feeling connected; ultimately it offers us the opportunity to be seen, and say ‘I see you’ - fostering a sense of belonging that is only invigorated further by the social aspects of team work (when a team is built on a solid foundation). Feelings of achievement, opportunity and belonging make for long-term happy careers within an organisation. And, because work takes up the majority of our time, it is clear that fostering this environment through Diversity and Inclusion training, is paramount when it comes to our individual and collective wellbeing. In fact, D&I training feeds at least 4 out of 5 pillars of the New Economics Foundation’s ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’
Quite the impact for a few hours of your time, wouldn’t you say?