Announcing the 2nd Annual People Pioneers: Honoring the leaders of the people-first revolution

Why DEI training alone won’t combat workplace bias (and what you can do about it)

Apr 5, 2021| Reading time: 12min

BY ChartHop

In 2018, a video of two Black men being arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks went viral. The two men were waiting for a business associate to arrive and had yet to order anything. For that reason, the manager of the store reported them to the police.

In response to demonstrations and calls to boycott the company, Starbucks closed all locations for one afternoon so their more than 175,000 U.S. employees could participate in mandatory anti-bias training. Yet, recent allegations of discrimination question the effectiveness of this training.

Anti-bias training falls under the umbrella of diversity, equity, and inclusion training, or DEI training. These programs seek to bring awareness to issues in the workplace, such as biases and prejudiced behaviors, that make achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion difficult.

Unfortunately, many companies view anti-bias and DEI training as sufficient fulfillment of their diversity pledge or as a means of addressing bad press, lawsuits, and, as we’ve seen most recently, nation-wide discussions of systemic racism.

While DEI training programs can provide employees with important information and perspective when it comes to diversity, they should not be treated as the only means of achieving DEI goals. To effect real, meaningful change, companies need to build upon training with concrete action that targets the root cause of workplace discrimination and inequality.

DEI training is the first step — not the whole program

Biases form over a lifetime and are constantly reinforced by stereotypes in society and the media. An hour, or even a day, of anti-bias training won’t undo all that learned behavior and thinking, nor the systems that permit these behaviors to continue.

A recent study found that while anti-bias and DEI training may impact employee attitudes, it does little to change their behaviors. Like students, employees can learn the right answers to questions or what they need to know to pass a test. Test them again a few weeks or months later, and they’ve likely forgotten the answers.

Don’t be mistaken—DEI training is vital. It can build awareness of biases, like unconscious bias and implicit bias, and foster a more inclusive workplace. But to ensure learnings endure and have a lasting impact, companies should reinforce training with targeted action and diversity initiatives.

How your company can build upon DEI training

DEI training can lay an excellent foundation for meaningful action. It’s a great way to educate employees, provide perspective, and create opportunities for discussion. But it’s a starting point. Read on for ways to drive lasting change by aligning training outcomes to measurable and actionable goals and metrics.

Reassess your company goals and values

In order to achieve real change when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, companies must be willing to question the structures in place that might reinforce bias and discriminatory behaviors.

That was the case for Toast and their recent values refresh. Sarah Castle, manager of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, says the values refresh allowed Toast to understand what type of behaviors were being rewarded at their company and identify what behaviors they wanted to see rewarded.

In order to achieve real change when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, companies must be willing to question the structures in place that might reinforce bias and discriminatory behaviors.

“We [used employee] feedback to actually inform how our current set of values was created, and not only putting a large emphasis on the value itself but the behaviors attributed to it,” she says. “And the coolest thing about it is when you can then weave that into your core competencies. So job expectations, promotions, anything that involves your employee life cycle as well as your community philosophy.”

By starting with your company goals and values, your leadership can prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. Then, DEI training becomes one of many methods your company can use to support your foundational tenets. Further, your values and goals will work to reinforce DEI learnings as employees will be expected to work toward more inclusive and anti-biased behaviors.

Create sponsorship opportunities

Sponsorships pair key management personnel with non-managers. Unlike a traditional mentorship, which can provide insights and guidance for the mentee’s career, sponsors use their position or influence to advocate for their mentee. This might look like advocating for a potential promotion or ensuring the mentee’s work is seen or recognized by other leaders.

“Women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored,” writes Herminia Ibarra, professor at London Business School. Her research found that while mentorships increased the likelihood of promotion for men, they had little effect on promotions for women. “One reason was that the women’s mentors were less senior than those of the men and, as a result, lacked the clout needed to advocate for them.”

Sponsorships also offer a great way to encourage contact within your workforce and intentionally challenge employees to face potential biases.

“We all have positive and negative biases against all types of groups,” says Frank Dobbin, professor of sociology at Harvard University. “But if you work next to somebody in that group… you’ll start to individuate members of the group instead of generalize them.”

Companies can approach sponsorship matching a few ways. Some companies might choose a cross-functional approach, connecting managers and employees from different departments and teams. Other companies might match sponsors and mentees based on the mentees’ goals and the sponsors’ professional growth experience.

The key here is to approach matching with careful thought and consideration.

Set DEI goals and hold your departments accountable

Having a clear understanding of what DEI goals your company wishes to achieve can help leadership set benchmarks and hold their departments, managers, and workforce accountable.

“Manage DEI in exactly the same rigorous and data-driven way you manage the rest of your business,” write Siri Chilazi and Iris Bohnet of Harvard Business School. That means placing the same amount of emphasis on DEI metrics as you would other key metrics, like sales revenue, net promoter score (NPS), or employee turnover.

Identify your key DEI metrics and start tracking them ASAP. Great examples are promotion rates or offers by race or gender (or both!), employee turnover (voluntary and involuntary) by race or gender, and compensation by race and gender.

Measuring these metrics over time can show what progress your company is making on specific goals, allowing you to know at a glance which efforts are working and which need to be revisited or discussed.

Manage DEI in exactly the same rigorous and data-driven way you manage the rest of your business.

Siri Chilazi and Iris Bohnet @ Harvard Business School

For example, say your recruiting metrics revealed a significant lack of diversity in your company’s hiring pipeline. Rather than targeting the larger organization with a general DEI training course, you could invite your HR professionals to a training session.

Here you can go beyond traditional diversity training content with actual engagement: What steps can your HR team take to broaden diversity? Should they pursue new recruitment sources? Offer incentives for diverse referrals? Use this session to educate your team, but also to translate that knowledge into action.

Commit resources to diversity initiatives

When your company dedicates human resources, time, and energy to diversity initiatives, you reinforce your commitment to achieving real change in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For some companies, this might mean hiring for dedicated DEI roles. According to Glassdoor, postings for DEI positions increased 30% in 2019. Companies that bring on or appoint diversity managers or dedicated diversity leaders see a 7-18% increase in underrepresented groups in management.

Diversity and Inclusion Job Postings on the Rise Globally

The number of DEI job postings increased worldwide in 2019. [Source]

Companies not in a position to hire dedicated DEI staff can consider creating a diversity task force. Unlike employee resource groups (ERGs), a diversity task force is a group of leaders from different functions or departments who work together to create solutions for diversity and oversee and assist with the execution of these solutions. Companies with diversity task forces can see a 9-30% increase in women and minority groups in management.

Dedicated DEI roles and diversity task forces also help with personal accountability within a company. “When people know they might have to explain their decisions, they are less likely to act on bias,” write Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, professors at Harvard University and Tel Aviv University, respectively.

“Having a diversity manager who could ask them questions prompts managers to step back and consider everyone who is qualified instead of hiring or promoting the first people who come to mind.”

When DEI training and action come together, change is possible

Starbucks recently announced that, in addition to mandatory anti-bias training for executives, the company would now tie executive pay to diverse hiring goals. Specifically, Starbucks wants executives to help increase diverse hires in corporate (30%) and retail and manufacturing operations (40%) by 2025.

This move sparks hope. While there is more work to be done, intentionally pairing DEI training with clear expectations for behavior holds Starbucks executive leadership—and the company as a whole—accountable for reaching their diversity goals.

Interested in learning more about how your company can pair DEI training with actionable metrics and insights? Reach out to the ChartHop team for your customized ChartHop demo today.

Get in touch

Make one good decision that leads to a lot of others. Talk to ChartHop today.

Contact us

Explore our latest blogs, eBooks, videos and more

Flipping the Script: A CFO's Insight Into Seamless Headcount Planning

It's time for Finance to partner with People leaders to make headcount planning a competitive advantage. Here are common challenges and tips for how to overcome them.

How Haven Technologies Centralized People Data to Provide Transparency for All

Discover how Haven Technologies helps their people better understand and connect with each other through easier access to information with ChartHop.

Finding the Right Talent: Tips to Strengthen Your Talent Acquisition Strategy

Ready to strengthen your talent acquisition strategy? Read our tips to help avoid sourcing and retention issues, as well as ways to set your TA teams up for success.

The People Ops Weekly Newsletter

💜 by 4,000+ readers at people-first companies.

A 5-minute Friday email with curated ideas, stories, insights, and jobs from the world of People Ops at growing orgs.

By submitting your info, you agree to opt-in to emails from ChartHop's newsletter, The People Ops Weekly.

Make one good decision
that leads to a lot of others

Sign up for a free demo today.