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Did you know … after one hour, people retain less than half of the information presented. After one day, people forget more than 70% of what was taught in training. After six days, people forget 75% of the information in their training.

Why You Shouldn’t Force People to Attend Diversity Training

You might be thinking that the title of this issue of Search Light is a little controversial – but if it caught your attention, then please do read on. I believe that everyone should attend and will benefit from attending diversity training. Problems arise when people are forced – by their manager or organisation in general – to attend the training.
The statistics about how little information is retained after training make for uncomfortable reading. Make it mandatory for all your staff to attend and the retention rates will probably drop even further.
Why is this and what can you do about it? Keep reading and I’ll tell you.

I have stood at the front of training rooms and seminars, ready to impart some pearls of wisdom, only to be met with blank, uninterested stares, negative body language and people more interested in their phones.

Mandatory training in any subject doesn’t work, as some people just don’t want to be there. They’ve been told that they have to attend, perhaps as part of a company-wide initiative, or because their manager believes they need a better understanding of the issue.

It has been found that with compulsory diversity training, people who undergo the training don’t usually shed their biases. Researchers have been examining that question for many years, in nearly a thousand studies. It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two; some studies even suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash. And yet nearly half of midsize companies use it, as do nearly all the Fortune 500.

Many companies actually see adverse effects. It’s believed that one reason for this is because 75% of trainers use negative messages in their training. By headlining the legal case for diversity and trotting out stories of huge settlements, they issue an implied threat: “Discriminate and our company will pay the price.” Threats and ‘negative incentives’ don’t win converts.

Many trainers will tell you that people often respond to mandatory courses with anger and resistance—and many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterward. This is exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve with the training.

Give Them What They Want

So if the training is compulsory for everyone within your organisation, how can you make it effective?

Once you have people in the room, you need to give them something they want. You need to know how to read the room, to see how responsive they are. I will often invite each participant to tell us why they are there; or I ask them, “What do you think you’ll be leaving with at the end of the workshop, that you didn’t have when you came in?”

It could be that delegates actually want to learn more about diversity, so I like to ask them what they already know, so that I can gage the level at which to deliver the training. The training needs to cover everything that I’ve been asked to deliver, but if it turns out that everyone in the room already has a good understanding of the subject, I won’t patronise them by delivering a basic training course.

Get Them on Side

If your business is planning to invite the entire staff to participate in diversity training, then you need to ‘sell’ the training to the individuals – in terms of what’s in it for them, rather than for the company.

How can individuals benefit from diversity training? Diversity training allows people to recognise their own self-worth. Why is this? We naturally compare ourselves to others and most of us are usually self-critical. This type of training allows you to recognise that everyone is different and special. Everyone has something to contribute to their organisation, however small. Diversity training can actually help individual employees to build their self-esteem, while also learning about diversity issues.

Follow Up

Any learning is only effective when it is implemented through reinforcing action. The Equality & Human Rights Commission’s recent report ‘Unconscious bias training: An assessment of the evidence for effectiveness’ suggested that “In addition to considering the content, context and evaluation of UBT, organisations should be aware of the limitations of training (all training not just UBT) to bring about organisational change. Diversity practitioners and champions need to challenge underlying assumptions that raising awareness of UB or achieving short-term changes in implicit bias in isolation can lead to long-term, organisation-wide change. UBT should be treated as one step towards achieving organisational change, through awareness raising, implicit bias change and motivation to act.”

Is your diversity training mandatory? Do you force your employees to sit through training that they really don’t want to attend? Instead of wasting your training budget, let’s have a conversation about what you want to achieve for your company and your staff and how I can help you to deliver that return on your investment.


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