Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Training: Sometimes something is WORSE than nothing.

It’s always better to have diversity training than to do nothing, right?


In the 25+ years that I have been doing this important work, I have gone into far too many organizations that have had previous diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) trainings to discover that the trainings did far more damage than good.

Employees are hostile toward the idea of anything with the word “diversity” or “social justice.”

They brace for the shame and blame.

They enter trainings as prisoners – sullen, disengaged, unwilling.

The most dangerous results I’ve seen include threatening, and violent “anonymous” behavior.

It is a situation that is worse than organizations that have had no training at all. We have to “unlearn” them before we can progress them forward into learning.

How does this happen?

In my experience it is related to trainers who don’t understand and, consequently, don’t design trainings with the learning process in mind. Let me show you.

This is the learning process:

Notice it begins with awareness and progresses to discord (the struggle we have to integrate new information into what we already know), followed by awkward practice (practicing to figure it out) before we ever get to integration (integrating it into something I now know and can access and use).

It is important to recognize the progression of competence, written in red on the infographic, from unconscious incompetence   (I have no idea what I don’t know how to do) to conscious incompetence (now I realize what it is I don’t know how to do) to conscious competence (I can think and apply what I have learned and feel I know what I’m doing).

DEI training that offers only awareness - most of what has been done the last several decades - is important to move people into understanding what it is we are talking about. It is also the opportunity to outline why it is important to understand the various histories, concepts, and perspectives involved.

But trainings need SO MUCH MORE!

When we offer trainings that move through awareness to discord and stop there, this is a dangerous place in which to leave people. We have given them an awareness of information that may conflict with what they already think or believe. It may be information to which they strongly react; feeling guilt, shame, anger, and even rage.

The result can be an organizational community that is now hyper sensitive, walking on eggshells, afraid to say or do anything with one another for fear of getting into trouble, being seen as incompetent or even feeling like their job may be at risk.

The training literally stops conversation. This is the exact opposite of what diversity work should do.

And that’s the least dangerous of the potential outcomes...

It can also increase the very behaviors we are trying to curb.

In some environments where we have been asked to "clean up," previous DEI training has led to anonymous pictures with racial violence highlighted, disparaging notes appearing in the workspace of those from target populations, as well as threats and actual acts of violence. This is the actual and real danger of not thinking through the entire learning process.

What can we do about it?

It’s about the art of knowing how to gauge where an audience is, where you want them to go, and when they have arrived in that place. It's about the expertise of the facilitator(s) - not just in content - but in the nuances of reading a room, expanding a learning opportunity, recognizing when a participant needs support, changing or adding an activity, or when resistance is a red flag.

Don’t misunderstand! In the solution and change work of quality DEI trainings, people will feel discomfort. It is a natural and necessary component of informing and motivating individual and systemic change.

But trainings also have to offer tools for how to move through that discomfort to the other side; the other side that strives for equitable and respectful behavior, practice, and policy in the workplace.

With those tools, there must be awkward practice. That's how we get to integration of what's been taught.

DEI is about design AND deliver.

Design is crucial to the full experience of learning about oppression, bias, and our role within it. There has to be intention in how participants move and engage through the learning to arrive in a place that is effective and influences real change in mindset, behavior, and outcomes.

What about you?

If you're a trainer, how do you design your DEI trainings? What tools do you use to gauge and guide your participants to embrace and apply your content and tools?

If you hire DEI trainers, how do you know whether they have the skills necessary for successful integration? What are your expectations for outcomes? Do you expect behavior changes? Require application of tools? Something else?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Need some support?

If you’re looking for more tools, check out Mindset Scaffolding: The Art of Changing Their Minds which outlines our Mindset Scaffolding Blueprint™, the tool we use to design and deliver trainings that follow the learning process and increase stick and the basis of our Badass Trainer Bootcamp.

It is through intentional design and delivery that we can eliminate dangerous environments and create learning experiences that truly stick – creating the change in individuals and their organizations that we need to ensure equity and respect for all.

Leave your thoughts in the comments – let’s see how many ideas and resources we can come up with together!

With Respect,

Leah Kyaio, Founder/CEO
With Respect, LLC