There are several reasons why an institution might decide to invest in professional development trainings on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Some organizations are motivated by a mandate from a funder, for others it’s precipitated by an internal call from staff who want to create a more inclusive culture. Hopefully, you haven’t hit a crisis point triggered by a failure of leadership to interrupt oppressive behavior in the workplace.
When our team at Create Forward gets a call from an organization seeking our support this is the first thing we want to know. Why now? Your motivation and purpose for bringing your team together to address these issues impacts the way we approach our work together. Once we know why you’ve decided to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority, our next step is to make sure you’re ready for all that comes with this work. Because bringing your team together to develop a shared language, an understanding of the historical roots of inequality, and how it could be showing up in your ways of work, can be a profoundly transformational experience for everyone involved. You will have some of the most honest cultural conversations you’ve ever had with your team. Once you open the door to these conversations there is no turning back.
So here are three things to consider before scheduling your first DEI training:
Is Your staff thrilled or terrified? We initiate the planning process of every training with a pre-assessment survey. The survey gives us an opportunity to get a sense of where people are in relationship to questions of race and gender in your workplace. The survey also allows us to gauge just how motivated they are to be engaged in these conversations. Knowing who is eager to be in the room and who feels less than optimistic about the outcomes will help the facilitators prepare to meet people where they are and address any fears head on because you can’t assume everyone is on board.
Is your leadership ready to take action? A DEI training is unlike any of other professional learning experience. People will come away from the training ready to enact change. Once you’ve opened the door to discussing places where inequity exist within the organization, people are going want to know that the leadership is on board and committed to creating sustainable change that moves the organization in the direction of more equitable representation at every level. They’ll be watching to see changes in policies and practices that make the workplace more inclusive for everyone. So you have to ask yourself, once the training is done, are you actually committed to applying what you’ve learned? If not, you’ll undermine your efforts and sow distrust amongst your staff. A DEI training that leads to no real change in workplace culture and values will only cause more harm then good and you’ll miss out on an incredible opportunity to use the training as a catalyst for transformative organizational development.
Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable? Transformation can be messy. In fact, all change requires a bit of disruption. You’re going be wrong about some assumptions you made about your team. You’re going to make mistakes and say the wrong thing. You’re going to become nakedly aware of areas of privilege that you were not aware of before and it will make you feel really uncomfortable. You may learn some things you didn’t expect about the people around you. But if handled with intention and a bit of bravery, your team will grow closer, build greater trust ,and a stronger commitment to supporting each other. But in order to get there, you must be ready to lean into discomfort.
Once you’ve answered these questions, make sure you have the right support. Remember this is more than a professional development training. So find a facilitator who is responsive to the needs of the team. Consider their process: how involved do they want you to be in planning the training, will they provide a debrief or follow-up after the training, or recommendations for next steps, and most importantly are they available should additional support be needed to address challenges that arise.