Diversity training is a marathon

diversity training marathon

While diversity is a top priority for business leaders, effective and sustainable training solutions to eradicate racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of discrimination within the organization are rare. Building a discrimination-free organization requires a diversified cultural training program that builds a foundation for a sustainable discrimination-free environment. Like training for a marathon, this process is long and demanding but essential!

No check-box solution

Yes, every effort is commendable. Any training on unconscious bias, gender equity, inclusive communication or other notions of the broad spectrum of diversity is helpful. On the other hand, eliminating discrimination within an organization is a long-term undertaking. It is a marathon with many facets to explore, comprehend and assimilate. If an organization aspires to achieve sustainable results, it requires a long-term transformation plan.

Try this at home

Here’s an easy little exercise to grasp the multiple implications of a culture change: put your Apple Watch on your other arm for a day – if you wear it on your right arm, put it on your left arm. Throughout the day, notice the small efforts you need to make or rituals you need to modify to get used to the change – looking to one side rather than the other, manipulating functions with your less skilled hand, feeling the presence of this “foreign object” on the “wrong” arm… We’re talking about micro frustrations. Imagine the effect on a larger scale, when it is not a matter of wearing something differently but changing one’s ways of thinking, speaking and doing. Initiating a culture change within an organization is a vast undertaking that requires multiple interventions on multiple subjects.

Where to start

From the beginning… 🙂 For example, do you think training on unconscious bias, which is very popular with organizations, is useful if participants are not motivated to work with colleagues from diverse cultures? Unfortunately, not. Such training in such a context may even perpetuate the problem.

Address cultural skills first

Measuring and developing one’s cultural intelligence – developing key cultural competencies – is the first step in the journey towards a discrimination-free organization. We can then add the building blocks of a reliable and sustainable diversity training program to this foundation. In short, it isn’t easy to run a marathon if you don’t have the skills to do so. What are the key cultural competencies? There are 4, according to the proven model of the Cultural Intelligence Center, a leading authority on cultural intelligence with over 20 years of experience, studies and research in the field:

  • Motivation: if one is not motivated to work in a culturally diverse environment, any effort to encourage a change in mentality towards cultures other than one’s own will be in vain.
  • Knowledge: if we know little about a particular culture (e.g., ethnicity, gender) or how to deal with an unfamiliar cultural aspect (e.g., unconscious biases), it will be difficult for us to act knowingly in the desired direction.
  • Strategy: if one has not thought about a strategy, a way to manage in a multicultural situation, or resolve a conflict related to discrimination, one cannot claim to obtain favourable results.
  • Action: if adapting to difference is a problem, it is unlikely that one will cope effectively in a diverse cultural context.

Counting your chickens before they hatch

This well-known expression means taking actions in an illogical, even counterproductive order. This is what organizations do when they rush into training sessions on specific themes (for example, unconscious biases) before checking whether their leaders and teams have the cultural skills to grasp and apply the notions learned. In short, it’s like running the Boston Marathon without any prior preparation or training.

Developing your cultural skills

Within personnel management logic, it is unthinkable to assign someone to a position for which they do not possess the skills. How can you “settle the discrimination issue” without considering your staff’s cultural competency levels? Like any skill, cultural skills are measured and developed. There is, therefore, ample reason to be optimistic.

If the organization aspires to create a discrimination-free work environment, it must first ensure that it evaluates and develops its leaders and staff’s cultural intelligence. Otherwise, its efforts invested in all areas will be in vain, and its chances of reaching the finish line of the diversity marathon are slim.


Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash



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