I get lots of requests for “diversity” training and I teach many classes related to diversity topics. In my humble and professional opinion, diversity training can be a great thing. Sadly, it can also be terrible depending on the instructor, the circumstances and individual biorhythms. I attended a session several years ago where the trainer forced everyone to join in a “giant group hug” at the end of the day. Ewwwwwww. (Evil Skippy scored three wallets and a cell phone.) In the worst case scenario, diversity programs can be dangerous.
My pet peeve about diversity training is the common sentiment held by some employers that they need it even though they do not really know what “it” is. They have read in HR magazines how important “diversity” is and they have heard from marketing lawyers and consultants about the need to “pay attention to diversity issues” as a way to lower the risk of lawsuits. (There is another one of my peeves – employers who are motivated more by a fear of lawsuits than due to a desire to make the workplace great.)
A prospective client once called me to ask about diversity training programs. Unfortunately, my attention was diverted and Evil Skippy answered the phone. Here is how the conversation went:
Prospective Client: Our company president went to a big HR seminar last week and now he wants to offer diversity training. Can you tell me about your rates?
Evil Skippy: A million dollars per session.
Evil Skippy: I said, it depends on the type of diversity program you want.
Client: I just want a diversity class.
Evil Skippy: Define what you mean by “diversity.”
Client: Uhhhhhhhhhhh . . .
This is why I do not let Evil Skippy handle any of my client development tasks.
While Evil Skippy’s people skills in that call were minimal, he hit on a common problem. Employers want “diversity” training, but they do not really know what it is they want. Are they attempting to foster good will or respectful behavior, even though there have not been any incidents of bad behavior? Are they concerned about a particular work group that until recently has been all male (or female), all one particular race, all one ethnicity or all one of some other protected category – and now is about to be integrated due to a new hire? Have there been incidents of rude behavior based on race or gender or sexual orientation? Does the employer want to focus on issues of race? Gender? Physical abilities? Religion?
What do employers want (or need) when they ask for diversity training? What do employees want (or need)? I could go on about the many possibilities, but I would rather open a dialog and hear from you.