Beyond Diversity Training

If you are socially conscious in the new millennium then you have heard words like diversity,equity and fairness. Those words aren’t typically part of the lexicon of peoplewho are stuck in the past, refusing to be a part of the conversation about race andgender because they won’t take the time to understand it. In today’s work environment,diversity and gender balance are being talked about at the highest levels. Diversity traininghas become so common that it’s almost a given for any organization.

The goal of these training sessions has always been to give us a better perspective onpeople different from us. A companion goal has been to have us do a self-evaluation about our personal beliefs and how we treatothers. All of this is laudable and should be applauded as we have come a long way. When it comes to diversity and equity work, there is information overload. Books, classesand seminars abound,all designed to help us treat others the way we wish to be treated. Colleges and universities have stepped forward to champion diversity issues. In addition to classes on the subject, some schools have gone so far as to hire diversity consultants.

While laudable on one level, it is my view that there should be some assessment done by the campus to determine attitudes and dispositions about diversity which is arguablya sensitive topic. Without a comprehensivecampus assessment, the initiativemay not get off the ground. Campus officials must also evaluate the proposed consultants so that that their style and delivery of the subject matter is acceptable. Withoutthis assessment workshop participants will not come away with the desired outcomes.

Corporate leaders, business leaders, civicleaders and educators all go through hours of diversity training. Because of how far America has come in race relations, I would like to believe that these sessions are effective. Now, here is where I believe diversity and equity workshops fall short. They may change minds, but do they change practice? Diversity and equity workshops should change the way we do business. If you are able to look across a room and say to a person who doesn’t look like you that you in some way understand them better, then that is half the battle. Many of us have been in enough diversity sessions where participants are both emotional and empathetic. These are all great breakthroughs, as it does take a lot to admit that you can change and that you want to be inclusive in your thinking.

The doing side of diversity training is the most important part because it reaffirms the psychological change that you have made. You see, if people go to these workshops, get the training, yet see no visible difference in their organization, then they begin to wonder. Leaders who believe in their hearts that diversity is right will fight for it. Unfortunately, too many leaders will do a great deal of waxing on about the matter, but their organizations will remain virtually unchanged. Being pro-diversity and gender-inclusive will get you in a lot of hot water in some circles as it sometimes requires systemic changes in practices and procedures. Leaders may find themselves alone, even though their organization’s philosophy is to practice inclusiveness.

Without the practical application of the philosophy, you become just another person who “talks the talk” but doesn’t “walk the walk.” If you do “walk the walk,” then you run the risk of being shunned by the establishment. Obviously, change is difficult for some people to accept. Yet, as change-agents, we have an obligation to broaden the playing field and to add to the rules of engagement. Diversity in all of its forms and definitions should actually be in our own self-interests simply because the world is changing at a rapid pace. We should also want it for our children, since they will be our future leaders. While some may disagree, children must learn to respect others of different ethnicities, ability levels and backgrounds. The sooner they do, the sooner they will appreciate and celebrate differences in people. So if you will be participating in an upcoming diversity workshop, remember that while the training is an important first step, what is probably more important is what inclusiveness. Without the practical application of the philosophy, you become just another person who “talks the talk” but doesn’t “walk the walk.” If you do “walk the walk,” then you run the risk of being shunned by the establishment. Obviously, change is difficult for some people to accept. Yet, as change-agents, we have an obligation to broaden the playing field and to add to the rules of engagement. Diversity in all of its forms and definitions should actually be in our own self-interests simply because the world is changing at a rapid pace. We should also want it for our children, since they will be our future leaders. While some may disagree, children must learn to respect others of different ethnicities, ability levels and backgrounds. The sooner they do, the sooner they will appreciate and celebrate differences in people. So if you will be participating in an upcoming diversity workshop, remember that while the training is an important first step, what is probably more important is what will go on outside the room. Diversity is here to stay, and it would behoove us all to better understand it. It is our differences that make us stronger and tie us together as one people.— Dr. James Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs and director of community partnerships at Miami University- Middletown in Ohio.

–James Ewers

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