A New Perspective on Workplace Diversity Training
Diversity training, as most people experience it, focuses on the lines that divide us. And somehow, that thinking goes, focusing solely on those differences will bring us together. According to Chapman & Co. collaborator Fred Falker, common sense will tell you that’s wrong. And it doesn’t work.
We spoke with Fred to learn more about his point of view and the unique training he has helped develop.
Fred, tell me how you got into DE&I training and the hurdles created by current approaches.
I went to school a trillion years ago. I majored in Black studies. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to do diversity training ever, but I was always asked to. Yes, it’s off-putting to have people see a Black man and assume that’s your value. At a high level in corporate training, I had other skills and other reasons, and I didn’t want to go into diversity training. I saw what they were doing, and I didn’t want to do that.
I did, however, develop different ideas and I realized I was good at expressing them and training with them! I didn’t go into diversity training because I was Black. I went into it because I was good at it.
I’ve learned that a lot of people come into diversity training intimidated or even scared because of what they’ve learned to expect. They’re feeling the same reticence that kept me away! For some in the organization, the goal is to endure the training and never have to go again. That’s not valuable learning that leads to change. I worked for years to develop a program that takes a fresh approach. There is nothing scary or threatening about it, in fact people report it brings real value to their lives.
The program is called Include. At the conclusion of our Include training, employees don’t walk out with some declaring victory and others feeling silenced and targeted. They walk out feeling inspired! They see that corporate leaders have managed to offer something they thought would be contentious and it has not been.
The experience is substantive and solid, and they can move from there. They’ve created relationships and a platform from which they can move to other work. This is a better fit for leadership, for creating people management skills. It’s much better than the current ‘differences’ model.
What are you doing that’s different?
The biggest detriment to other approaches is their inability to communicate in a way that piques and maintains the interest of leaders and employees. They are all focusing on the lines that divide us. It often doesn’t work because it offends some and as a result, is not effective.
Difference isn’t the problem. Distance is the problem. Reducing distance, the extent to which we know another person or not, allows us to get to what’s next. I spell that out in greater detail in my TEDx talk.
Don’t get me wrong. There is value in learning history and understanding how we’ve gotten here. There is value in listening to things that are hard and being able to connect with speakers on their truth. But to do that, you need relationship. Often times in organizations, talking about differences without relationship is just a shouting match!
What we’re doing is transformative. We’re shifting the paradigm in an industry that didn’t know it was stuck in one. The work to close gaps between people – the ‘distance’ paradigm – is less divisive and more impactful than drilling down on dissimilarities. In effect, we’re challenging not only our clients, but an entire industry to think differently.
How do you make people see each other, to make people matter?
It can’t just be words; you can’t make people care. And it can’t just be awareness. To make everybody matter, you must change behavior.
What we take as the challenge is creating companies with the kind of culture that wants inclusion. To create leadership that brings those types of values; that allows for those conversations.
Companies should be tying this training to everything else they’re doing in the culture space. This not only changes how we think about diversity and inclusion, it changes everything about how we lead and manage people.