Diversity and Inclusion Series: Managing Backlash from Diversity Training

By The Intersect Group

Many companies have put a huge emphasis on making sure they train employees in diversity and inclusion. A very good thing and LONG overdue.

This “extra” push has been at the forefront of many an HR department’s and C-suite’s efforts since at least this past summer, and now six months in, it’s understandable that some backlash has popped up.


When and how your company may experience its own diversity backlash

Eli.com, an Atlanta-based employee training company, has what we think is an excellent explanation as to why your company may get some backlash regarding diversity. Some of your employees might think:

  • Diversity is a non-issue because they’ve never felt discriminated against or treated as the “other.”
  • It’s “someone else’s problem.” They aren’t racist and have no problem with diversity, etc.; other people are/do.
  • Companies start diversity programs only for the “sole benefit of certain minority groups.” Therefore, because these groups get “special treatment,” it can lead to “assumptions of favoritism and priorities,” which can make “majority groups” feel ignored. Cries of reverse discrimination can arise.
  • People in minority groups themselves may be skeptical of your company’s efforts. They also may worry about how they’ll be perceived by their majority group colleagues.

Employees also may feel “overwhelmed” after diversity training. They want to do right by their co-workers and are now well aware of all the ways they may have offended in the past and how they can now offend in the future. They may feel they “have to walk on eggshells.”


What is Diversity?

First, remember that diversity pretty much means anything we use to differentiate people and groups from each other. In encouraging the acceptance of diversity, it’s important to focus the most on appreciating and respecting what makes employees different in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, disability, religion, education, sexual orientation, and national origin.

Each of us brings a different set of experiences, thoughts, beliefs, ideas, and perspectives, all of which can help companies see various challenges and opportunities through multiple viewpoints.

Bottom line: it’s absolutely critical for employers and the people who work at a company to see the benefits these differences have and – most importantly – respect and value each individual.


Knowing when Diversity Training is Effective

As with any project, you should begin the training with specific goals in mind. For diversity training, those goals could include:

  • Presenting a company culture that welcomes diversity and is not divisive.
  • Embraces and seeks out different approaches brought to the table by diverse employers, rather than just “tolerating” them.
  • It goes much deeper than providing lists of “do this and not that” and instead works to build understanding.


Diversity training best practices 

  1. Hire experts.

Many people and companies offer this type of training.  It’s critical to talk to several training providers who have actually trained employees in diversity. Ask for references and make sure to call previous customers of any training vendor you’re considering.

  1. Never enforce; always encourage.

When discussing diversity training, lean toward the idea that your company chooses to move toward a more diverse and inclusive workplace rather than demanding that everyone accept one another. After all, adults will balk at being told what to do.

  1. Choose a training that’s upbeat and actionable. 

Make sure trainers emphasize that diversity training benefits everyone, not just minorities. Trainers also should not just talk “theory” or “facts”: they should offer practical tools and even talking points employees can use when they find themselves struggling or in challenging situations.

  1. Keep your ENTIRE workforce in mind.

In other words, tailor your training to your company’s needs. Conduct some fact-gathering projects to assess your current company culture and find any unresolved conflicts and issues your employees may face. Hold focus groups, surveys, and employee audits.

It’s also wise to create common goals regarding diversity and inclusion: they help create bonds among employees and a sense that everyone is “in it together” and we all succeed or fail as one. 

  1. Emphasize that diversity training isn’t meant to “punish” anyone.

Employees who feel they are being called out or being “corrected” for “behaving badly” will feel ashamed and understandably angry. A workplace that’s truly inclusive proactively encourages that everyone is treated fairly. That everyone lifts up everyone else and that everyone calls out discriminatory or offensive company practices when they see them. (Note that we’re emphasizing company policies/practices. Anyone acting in a discriminatory manner should be counseled in private, always.)

Have you started diversity training at your company? How’s it going? Have you noticed any pushback or backlash? Let us know!