Diversity and inclusion training is important for legal, practical and business reasons. It can:
Be used as a legal defence: Under the Equality Act 2010 employers may be able to defend a discrimination claim if they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent that kind of discrimination happening (the ‘reasonable steps defence’) – this includes providing training. Not having such training may make it very difficult to defend this kind of claim.
Reduce the risk of complaints and claims: DEI training is often used to help encourage an inclusive work culture, to help staff recognise inappropriate behaviour and know how to handle it at an early stage if it does happen. This means it can reduce the risk that such issues will happen, or prevent them from escalating if they do arise.
Help business performance: Extensive research shows not just that diverse businesses tend to be more successful than others, but that businesses that are diverse and are also inclusive tend to be more profitable still (see here for example). DEI training can play an important part in fostering an inclusive environment and in demonstrating an employers’ commitment to achieving this.
Tips for employers
Be inclusive: Organisations may want to check that the content of the training doesn’t unintentionally alienate groups or underline divisions, such as by using inflammatory terms.
Make it practical: Training tends to be more effective if it demonstrates how to apply the learnings in practice, rather than just being theoretical or a tick box exercise.
Keep it regular: Companies may want to consider delivering training annually. In a recent case an employer couldn’t rely on the reasonable steps defence because the training it provided was ‘stale’ and it had failed to arrange refresher training after new issues arose.
Ensure it is legally compliant: This is key particularly if you are rolling out training for an international workforce. For instance, while this is being challenged, the US state of Florida has recently passed a law severely restricting the content of DEI-related training.
Set realistic goals: Of course, a training session can’t be expected to address all your DEI-related issues by itself and should typically be a part of a wider business strategy to address the relevant issues. For example, when aiming to increase the diversity of senior hires, you might opt to review your sourcing and interview process and also arrange training for the hiring managers and interviewers to try to reduce any unfairness. This might include training on sourcing candidates, asking inclusive questions and tools to challenge any unconscious bias.
Measure effectiveness: It can be tricky to measure the effectiveness of your training. How you do so will depend on the behaviour you are trying to address. For example:
Surveys: After the training you could ask how equipped your staff feel to handle the issues in practice. Going forward, internal staff surveys can be used to see how inclusive they see your business. Note the wording of such questions can lead to legal exposure, so you may want to take advice on this.
Complaints and claims: At the more extreme end you can track the numbers of discrimination-related complaints and claims you receive. You may also want to track exit interviews.
Data: For example, if aiming to increase diversity in the hiring process, you could track the protected characteristics of applicants, any increase in diversity over time and applicants’ success rate at different stages of the selection process. Of course, employers should be mindful of their obligations under the GDPR when using employee personal data.
Natasha Adom is a senior lawyer and training director at GQ Littler