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Diversity training expenditures

How much do companies spend each year on diversity training?

Too much, say the authors of a recent study, researchers Frank Dobbin, Alexandra Kalev and Erin Kelly of Harvard, the University of California, and the University of Minnesota. They found that diversity training had little effect on the diversity mix in organizations and did nothing to increase the numbers of people of color and women in the ranks of management.

However, as a diversity consultant in the Boston area for the last twenty years, I would take issue with the conclusions of the study. First of all, the purpose of diversity training is usually not to increase the numbers of diverse managers or to create a more diverse workforce. The main objectives of the hundreds of diversity trainings (classes, workshops, etc.) that I have facilitated are to increase awareness and develop new skills.

For example, here are some of the common objectives for my diversity trainings:

  • To increase awareness of one's own cultural lens
  • To learn about a model of diversity
  • To increase one's skills in working effectively in a diverse team
  • To increase one's skills in cross-cultural communication
  • To learn more about the dynamics of inclusion
  • To understand how one can help support diversity in his or her own organization.

Certainly diversity training is costly. Most companies today have trained their employees in diversity, some many times over the last fifteen years. The cost of diversity training for large companies often totals over $1 mil. annually, and fees for two trainers to facilitate a one-day diversity program usually run between $2,000-5,000.

While a single day can't undo decades of socialization, it can begin to provide information to challenge stereotyping. It can also teach important communication skills, as well as provide employees with increased understanding of how to address the dilemmas they face everyday in the workforce.

I do believe, however, that diversity training is only one part of a well-conceived diversity plan. It is not necessarily the place to begin, and it clearly not the most cost-effective intervention.


Most effective diversity interventions

What do you believe are the most effective interventions that an organization can undertake to create an inclusive work culture, and where would you put diversity training in your ranking?

From my twenty years working in the diversity field, here is how I would rank the effectiveness of various kinds of interventions. All of them need support and resources from the top to have any chance of success. From most to least effective:

1. An Accountability Mechanism - for managers of diversity and inclusion. This can be part of the rationale for their bonus or part of their yearly goals as part of the performance management system. When it is utilized, it works like magic.

2. Dedicated Staff - Most large companies have a Director of Diversity today who may report to the CEO or the head of HR. Having a person and an office gives focus and momentum to diversity efforts.

3. A Diversity Council - It works to have a group of 12 to 20 who meet over time. This is a low-cost option that provides the focus and momentum that the diversity staff can bring. With good leadership within their ranks and support from the top, they can produce amazing results.

4. Developing the Business Case for Diversity - Once employees are convinced of the financial rationale for supporting diversity for their organization, they swing into action.

5. Diversity Training - This remains a way to change an entire system. Training is particularly effective when the focus is on skills.

6. Mentoring Programs -Working one-on-one to support the development of promising managers who are people of color, women or people from another culture can be an effective way to level the playing field. It is, however, difficult to develop a process and structure that really works.

One of my least effective interventions, by the way, was a mentoring program which was ruined by the managers and participants openly confronting each other. Meeting after meeting was cancelled. My other biggest failure was a large-scale diversity assessment where there was no follow-up and the results were never distributed to the organization because of internal politics.


Agencies for employing the mentally handicapped

We are interested in working with a Massachusetts agency to employ the mentally handicapped in our stores. Can you suggest an agency? Also, do you know of a company that has a successful program in place?

It's great to hear you wish to develop a program to recruit and hire the mentally handicapped, as this is oftentimes an overlooked population of very qualified workers.

You should contact the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health as they assist clients with finding work. The DMH provides supportive employment and skill building programs for the mentally ill. Contact the Brockton office at (508) 587-8274 for further information.

The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission also has a Vocational Rehabilitation program that assists individuals with disabilities returning to work. They can be reached at (800) 245-6543, or you can access their many services online at

There are numerous companies, organizations, agencies and individuals who hire the handicapped throughout the Commonwealth. Two local examples that I am aware of are Roche Bros. and Stop & Shop.

Roche Bros., the local supermarket chain, has worked with the mentally handicapped for over fifteen years. They are often approached by the handicapped for jobs. Stop & Shop has been a leading employer of Goodwill training program graduates, having hired seventeen trainees in the last year alone. Stop & Shop routinely contacts Goodwill in advance of store openings and last year hired eleven Goodwill trainees for its new store in Brigham Circle in Boston, for example. For more information on the Goodwill program and other companies that are involved, visit


HR's role in managing diversity

To what extent can HR practitioners manage diversity in the workplace?

This is probably the most often asked question when it comes to diversity. In order to clarify what is meant by "manage," I went straight to the dictionary.

Definitions for the word "manage" include dominate, handle, wield or control. As you can see, if we were to use these definitions, they would not promote inclusion or positive attitudes, or move cultural shifts in the right direction.

However, there is a definition that provides a perfect answer to your question. If manage means to "succeed or accomplish despite difficulty or hardship", then we can better define the HR practitioner's role when it comes to managing diversity.

HR practitioners' management of diversity in the workplace could mean defining diversity tactics and strategies appropriate for your organization. This should include recruiting and retaining diverse candidates; offering programs, career planning and benefits that reflect the needs of diverse populations; looking beneath the surface to ensure that all programs and outcomes are not only legal, but also take into account differences; and including every employee in your company in the process.

Just as the definition implies, successful diversity outcomes are not always achieved without difficulties and hardships. Sometimes trainings don't produce desired outcomes, sensitivity awareness creates more problems than it solves, and things become so complex that we begin to focus on our similarities, with a mere acknowledgement that we are all different.

Significantly, the HR practitioner cannot be the sole practitioner when it comes to managing diversity. Diversity has to be woven, intertwined, and integrated into the very core of your business in order to be successfully managed.

In summary, can the HR practitioner manage diversity in the workplace? Absolutely! But you can't do it alone.


Hiring a diversity trainer

We have some diversity- related friction in the company caused by several recent hires and promotions. The company previously employed only white men for technical, sales and managerial positions and hired women as support staff only. The company is growing and has been increasing its international clientele, as well. We recently hired a Middle Eastern and two Asian engineers and a female translator and promoted a female to project manager. But the minority employees feel socially isolated and left out of the information loop. As it happens, I recently received a sales letter from a professional trainer in diversity management inviting me to purchase her services. Should I write to the diversity trainer and find out if we should hire her, and if so, what questions should I be asking her?

The greatest asset of any company is its workforce. That asset must be managed and given the same strategic importance and priority as any other corporate asset. In today's competitive global economy, valuing and managing a diverse workforce should be regarded not solely as the right thing to do, but from a perspective of enlightened self-interest. In fact, nowhere should such an idea be more enthusiastically embraced than at companies whose clientele and employees span the globe. For such corporations, diversity and inclusion is a global business imperative. How else would a company with the public perception of insensitivity and hostility toward its own culturally diverse employees maintain its business credibility and integrity while it conducts business with people from other cultures around the world?

Before you hire a diversity company or trainer you must first do your homework by asking the following questions of yourselves:

  • Are diversity and inclusion sanctioned and embraced by the CEO and senior management as part of the company's overall business strategy?
  • Are we hiring a diversity trainer as a knee-jerk reaction to the lack of inclusion and acceptance currently occurring among our staff or will it be a holistic approach, inclusive of customers, vendors, and community?
  • Is the company ready or prepared to make the long-term investment necessary to become a "best practice" diversity and inclusion company?

Until you have answered these questions truthfully you may not be ready for a diversity program. Anything less than a full commitment and willingness to invest in an ongoing long-term company-wide diversity and inclusion initiative as part of the company's business imperative for future growth and success is just a band-aid approach to what could potentially become a legal and public relations nightmare.

The cost of not embracing diversity has a major impact on a company in two very distinct ways: First, you will be unable to attract and retain the broadest choice of talent and highly motivated employees; and second, dissatisfied employees create a liability in the form of negative media attention and potential class action lawsuits which impacts the bottom line and influences stockholder value.

A diverse workforce, on the other hand, offers distinct business advantages. It gives companies a competitive edge, increased employee productivity, customer loyalty, shareholder confidence and a positive public perception. It offers advantages to employees as well. As employees learn to understand and interact with people who are different than themselves, they will learn to be more tolerant and flexible. If there is one skill that will help employees and companies succeed in the next century, it's the ability to deal with change.

Once you have gone through the internal evaluation process, you may be ready to consider a diversity training program. I suggest you ask the following questions of a potential trainer:

    1. Is there a specific process or model that you employ in your diversity training and could you give me a brief explanation of that process or model?
    2. Are there companies you have worked with who can share the success of this model or process?
    3. What kind of time should we be allotting for training?
    4. At what level should we expect training to begin?


Translating policies and materials into Spanish

We would like to translate our policies, orientation materials and training materials into Spanish. Can you suggest a cost-efficient process?

There are many translation companies and agencies that provide this service. I would recommend getting bids from a minimum of three such companies. For cost efficiency it is best to bundle the work and get the company to give you a package quote.

One word of caution: please be sure that you have the materials culturally adapted and not just translated. Often, information loses its meaning through literal translation, so be sure that the company you pick is experienced in cultural adaptation, and, of course, ask for references. Subtle differences exist within the Spanish-speaking countries and meanings. Remember, your Spanish-speaking employees can also serve as your in-house focus group to review and give feedback on the materials which are being culturally adapted. Please remember, too, that education level plays a significant role when selecting staff members to review culturally adapted materials.


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