Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training Programs Need A Reboot
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) programs have been popping up at colleges, universities and within organizations in rapid succession over the past several years. In response to calls for more women and minority leadership roles within organizations, business schools commonly offer DE&I courses, workshops and bootcamps. These are important offerings but are not having the impact nor achieving the reach that is needed in this critically important space.
There are at least two reasons why DE&I programs fail to reach the people that need it most. First, potential participants view the DE&I programs as bias training, and since they don’t believe they possess any bias, they are not interested. Second, potential participants are interested in DE&I training but, in our divided culture, view attending such a program as an admission of bias. These participants fear a scarlet letter of sorts being affixed to them as someone who needs DE&I training because they are biased.
Everyone possesses biases. It’s a human condition. There is copious research in this area that demonstrates this fact (if you are reading this and thinking, “I’m not biased”—you just exhibited an instance of confirmation bias). Frankly, everyone needs DE&I training to help make themselves aware of these biases and how they impact the choices we make.
Business schools are in a unique position to drive change in this space. They train future organizational leaders and we know that those organizations—in their current state—are rife with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Thus, there is a desperate need for this training for our students. Business schools also reside in the space where we teach our students that the success of the organization is directly measured by its financial performance. Occupying this space affords business schools an opportunity to rebrand DE&I training as what it really is: entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership education.
Consider the skills and training that typical DE&I participants receive. A search of DE&I program objectives returns learning goals such as: enhancing communication, engendering understanding, improving collaboration, developing listening skills, boosting empathy and promoting complex thinking skills.
Consider the context within which DE&I participants receive this training: The role of the organization is a central theme.
Consider the goal of DE&I training that participants should hope to achieve. An open and inclusive environment where everyone has a voice and whose ideas matter.
These skills, the context in which they are taught, and the goals of such training are strikingly similar to what is being taught within entrepreneurship and leadership programs at B-Schools around the world.
Perhaps most important, DE&I programs teach the human+ skills (i.e., creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and empathy) that futurists believe are vital for people to prosper in the oncoming wave of automation powered by artificial intelligence.
Research has been consistent in supporting the value created by diverse teams. Cristian Deszö and David Ross found that gender diversity among a firm’s leaders results in greater levels of innovation and performance. Orlando Richard found similar results when teams were more racially diverse. Research from Adam Galinsky and colleagues demonstrates that diverse teams are more creative. Other research suggests that diverse teams result in team members engaging in higher level critical thinking skills.
It is no longer a matter of whether greater diversity, equity and inclusion yield better outcomes for organizations. We know this to be case. Thus, business schools must be focused on teaching those other soft skills, like communication, empathy and listening, that will unlock the creative problem solving potential and complex thinking skills underlying diverse teams.
To that end, business schools would be well-served to focus on embedding DE&I principles into their offerings in the fields of entrepreneurship and leadership where we know diversity, equity and inclusion of thought result in better organizational outcomes. This approach aligns with why students attend business schools. This approach will yield better learning outcomes.
Most importantly, this approach will have the long-term impact that is most desired: greater diversity, equity and inclusion.