Enhancing Inclusivity: Diversity Training Strategies to Eliminate Bias

Apr 11, 2024 | Employee Engagement

Diversity in the workplace relates to different components of identity, from race and ethnicity to gender, age, and sexual orientation. To build an inclusive workplace, every organization should prioritize diversity training programs to help employees understand how their unconscious bias affects workplace dynamics—and how to address it. Ultimately, well-designed diversity training programs will foster a more inclusive workplace. We’ll discuss elements of such initiatives, along with common challenges and case studies.

Table of Contents

1. Understanding Bias in the Workplace

2. The Need for Diversity Training

3. Components of Effective Diversity Training

4. Challenges in Implementing Diversity Training

5. Measuring the Impact of Diversity Training

6. Case Studies of Successful Diversity Training

Understanding Bias in the Workplace

Bias in the workplace can influence decision-making that impacts employees’ careers and development, as well as team dynamics and hiring practices. Implicit bias involves deeply ingrained mental associations of particular groups of people with negative concepts like ineptitude or danger. Unconscious bias is one form of implicit bias, in which people remain unaware of these associations and their effects, as researchers explain in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

For example, a manager with unchecked implicit bias who has two equally talented direct reports might offer higher-profile assignments and training opportunities to the white employee while failing to nurture the capabilities of the Black employee. He might then sponsor the white employee, advocating for his advancement to a higher-level position. Each decision he makes within this sequence affirms his false internal narrative that the white employee is more capable and qualified. His failure to support the Black employee, which stems from unchecked bias, has imposed barriers to success for that employee (and for the company).

A Deloitte study found that 33% of employees experience workplace bias at least once per month.  And 68% said this negatively affects their productivity. For 83%, this bias takes the form of microaggressions—behaviours that can feel subtle and indirect, and therefore hard to address. Here are a few examples of microaggressions:

  • Making a tokenizing statement during a meeting.
  • Commenting on how well a coworker who is originally from another country speaks English.
  • Expecting a person with a marginalized identity to educate others on their experience. 

In extreme cases, workplace bullying can even result from bias in the workplace. Bullying includes more overt and hostile actions that are done repeatedly and purposefully, like spreading gossip or undermining a colleague’s efforts. 

Whether overt or implicit, bias in the workplace can affect employees’ mental health and job satisfaction. Those dealing with persistent bias will be likely to seek opportunities elsewhere. 

The good news is that most employees want to move beyond bias—92% of employees surveyed said they consider themselves an ally to those who are different from them, reports Deloitte. But most people need more guidance on how to act as an ally in the workplace.

The Need for Diversity Training

Diversity training plays a key role in confronting bias in the workplace and fostering a more inclusive environment. These initiatives can dramatically improve employee relations and strengthen a company’s reputation. 

Good training strategies work to transform how people view those who are different from them, which has a powerful and long-lasting influence on interpersonal dynamics. (In contrast, surface-level training might just tell them not to engage in certain behaviours.) By enhancing inclusivity, well-crafted diversity training strengthens job satisfaction, employee development, and retention along with team outcomes. 

Just half of all employees who have taken part in diversity training in the past year say it has been helpful. Clearly, organizations need to refine their diversity training strategies to achieve stronger results.

Components of Effective Diversity Training

HR managers developing a diversity training for the company
Credit: Thirdman/ Pexels

Too often, training to address workplace bias can backfire. Researchers have found that in some cases, promotions of Black employees actually decreased after bias training. “Sending the message that biases are involuntary and widespread—beyond our control, in other words—can make people feel they’re unavoidable and lead to more discrimination, not less,” write researchers Francesca Gino and Katherine Coffman in Harvard Business Review.

Effective training must merge education with accountability and structural changes. It must go beyond awareness to help attendees manage their biases, shift their behaviour, and measure their progress.

Let’s discuss some key elements of diversity training. Then, we’ll talk about what their content should involve.


Several crucial elements influence whether diversity training proves effective. Incorporate them into your diversity training strategies to gain more tangible results.

  • Active participation. Reward active engagement in diversity training. Share praise for employees who take the training seriously. During one-on-ones, managers should share praise and encouragement for participating in these sessions.
  • Ongoing training. Diversity training should be a regular occurrence, not a one-time event. During each session, dig into different topics and reinforce lessons learned.
  • A habit-breaking emphasis. According to Gino and Coffman, diversity training focused on prejudice habit-breaking leads to long-term benefits. This means learning how to call out bias, getting to know people as individuals, learning about people who contrast with stereotypes, and getting to know a broader range of people. In one study, people who had undergone such training were still more likely to identify and confront bias two years later, the authors note.
  • Actionable behavioural changes. Training that share clear, actionable behaviours to avoid and adopt is more likely to “stick,” said the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Strategies for how to make these behavioural changes. Training can share evidence-based techniques for embracing new behaviours, the NIH recommends.
  • Scientific research. Providing compelling evidence for the impacts of bias, and case studies on the effects of addressing workplace bias, will help participants feel more invested in the trainings.
  • Leadership involvement. Show that people at all levels are undergoing diversity training. Leaders’ training can be tailored to high-level roles. Leaders should also vocally support these programs, affirming their benefits.

Now, let’s look at some subjects these trainings can cover.


An HR manager giving presenting on diversity at work
Credit: Alena Darmel/ Pexels

Tailor the content of your diversity training to the specific needs of your organization. Reflect on challenges that have emerged over the past year. Below, we outline just a few of the topics that diversity training could address.

Trainings for Employees

  • Noticing and addressing their own implicit bias within meetings, collaborations, and one-on-one interactions.
  • Deconstructing stereotypes to form more positive associations with people from different groups.

Training could ask employees to come up with a short list (e.g., three items) of behaviours to change. Setting goals in this way will make the training more action-oriented and beneficial.

Training for Managers and Leaders

In addition to all of the above topics, leaders and managers should undergo training in these areas:

  • Supporting all employees’ growth equally. With support from the trainer, leaders can reflect on how to better nurture each direct report’s development.
  • Calibrating performance management decisions. Teach managers to follow objective criteria in evaluating employees and making decisions that affect them. HR can help them calibrate the set of standards they’re using to assess performance. Then, performance management software can help accurately evaluate progress.
  • Making good work visible. Encourage managers and leaders to celebrate peers’ and employees’ contributions. 

These trainings can also educate participants on the concept of “moral licensing”: the idea that attending a training or supporting a coworker from a marginalized group excuses or nullifies future instances of biased behaviour.

In addition to diversity training, set up employee resource groups, where members can lend support to one another in dealing with common challenges. Pervasive issues may also surface through their dialogue. You could have specific groups for people of colour, white allies, LGBTQ+ employees, and people with disabilities, for instance. An allyship group can focus on a different reading or key topic every month, digging deeper into such issues on an ongoing basis to create a more inclusive workplace.

Challenges in Implementing Diversity Training

Let’s now discuss some common hurdles and criticisms of diversity training programs, along with their solutions.

Resistance from Employees

Problem: Employees might not take diversity training seriously enough because they don’t fully understand their value.

Solution: Make sure senior leadership and all managers are articulating the importance of diversity training. For instance, an executive could share a powerful story about lessons learned in such a training. When people see how diversity training has enhanced the CEO’s or CFO’s ability to lead, they’ll recognize their value.

Disengagement Due to Discomfort

Problem: Some employees may also bristle at the idea of diversity training because they fear they’ll feel uncomfortable. Or, they may struggle to bear with a training that brings up difficult emotions.

Solution: Embracing discomfort will ensure that one makes genuine progress in diversity training. The lessons learned can feel uncomfortable at times, but this discomfort signals that growth is occurring. Coach managers on how to guide employees in sitting with this discomfort. 

Make sure that participants have appropriate resources for discussing their feelings as well. An employee coming to terms with “white guilt” for the first time may need to process his or her emotions with another ally one-on-one, or with a therapist. Encourage healthy processing of emotions in appropriate spaces, reassuring participants that such emotions are completely normal.

Superficial Implementation

Problem: Participants may learn how to check the right box on a questionnaire, but not respond appropriately in real-life situations. They can pass a test on inclusivity, but aren’t yet living these practices.

Solution: Make diversity training more interactive, adding elements of coaching and ways to practice new skills. During the trainings, conduct role plays where employees practice new skills, for instance. You can also read and analyze scenarios as a group, discussing what could be improved.

Measuring the Impact of Diversity Training

A group employee after a diversity training
Credit: Diva Plavalaguna/ Pexels

Evaluate the effectiveness of diversity training programs through multiple data sources, like the following:

  • Examine turnover data about diverse employees to establish a baseline. Also collect data on job satisfaction, engagement, perceptions of inclusivity, promotions and hires of diverse employees, and team productivity.
  • Conduct stay interviews with current employees to determine how to better meet their needs. 
  • Survey employees to find out how well they feel the diversity initiative is working. Ask about areas for continued growth. Pay close attention to the input of employees from marginalized groups.
  • Track progress through behavioural assessments. Conducting 360 reviews can illuminate progress and continued needs for growth.
  • Review performance metrics. Leverage sophisticated analytics to identify weak spots and strengths.

Data on employee sentiment will help you adapt your diversity training as needed. Foster continuous improvement based on the data gleaned from these sources. 

Case Studies of Successful Diversity Training

At the University of Wisconsin, STEM faculty underwent diversity training to address gender bias. Among participating departments, hiring of women faculty members rose from 32% to 47% over a two-year period, report Gino and Coffman. Moreover, all faculty in those departments—men included—felt their contributions were more appreciated and felt more comfortable talking about family responsibilities. Their training followed the prejudice habit-breaking approach described above, which guided them in making long-term changes.

Similarly, in one company (“JJM”), employees took part in a cohort-based program composed of two 3-day modules (held in person, four months apart). Additional coaching, assessment, and independent work followed the first module. Participants focused on a personal “case project” to address a specific area for growth. The company held networking events just after sessions, where people could practice new skills, along with site visits to other companies to learn about their practices. Through this interactive approach, the company improved diversity and equity throughout its ranks. Further, it went from having very poor employee satisfaction ratings to earning an 82% approval rating on Glassdoor.

Diversity training will assist in building a more inclusive workplace. Equipped with the right training strategies, you’ll guide everyone to relate to one another in healthier ways. By strengthening interpersonal dynamics and supporting each person’s growth equally, you’ll help the whole company reach higher levels of success.

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