Companies have been proactively managing workplace diversity, in one fashion or another, since the mid 1980’s. Diversity management in corporate America can be traced to the interaction of affirmative action, regulatory equal employment opportunity compliance in one stream, and emerging concerns about the changing demographic makeup of the American workforce and projections about the scarcity and heterogeneity of workers in the new millennium in the other.

Diversity management theories have evolved, relatively sequentially, from compliance oriented headcount/representation to business case justification, immersion training/remediation, valuing differences, engagement/inclusion and most recently “no-fault”/unconscious bias For the most part, each evolutionary step has retained significant and relevant vestiges from all of the previous approaches to diversity management.

In regard to practical application, each of these diversity management theories is often attached symbiotically to other more traditional vehicles for influencing company culture and organizational behavioral, such as, corporate vision, mission and values initiatives; leadership and employee development training; policy and process reform; communication and messaging strategies; and change management programs.

Many companies have robust diversity and inclusion programs, in which training plays an important part, and impressive communications machines to trumpet their success. Success is often defined as collecting prestigious awards or high profile public recognition campaigns as a proxy for corporate commitment to diversity and inclusion. Nevertheless, organizations with highly visible diversity programs have not demonstrated a corresponding increase in representation or reduction in conflict related to race, gender, age or sexual orientation and identity and other dimensions of workplace diversity.  In short, many of these programs simply don’t work well.

Recent tech sector headlines are replete with diversity reports like,Lots of attention, little progress”. The accounts go on to disclose that “despite loudly touted efforts to hire more blacks, Latinos and women, diversity numbers at the largest tech companies are barely budging.”  In another example, a tech industry giant announced a $300 million, 5 year diversity training and recruiting initiative to achieve full representation of women and people of color in their workforce. Yet, 2 years in, the company admits, there is “a great deal of work to be done”.

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The dilemma is that prior approaches to managing diversity have focused on training, whether to increase cultural understanding or remove recruitment bias, and have been just marginally effective because they only partially address the critical levers that trigger sustainable behavior change. At its core, diversity training relies on group immersion in educational sessions about …well, diversity. Leaving employees awash in knowledge about diversity, but with no ongoing support to process, internalize and apply the knowledge they have received.

Diversity coaching not only provides access and exposure to critical, relevant and timely knowledge on diversity, but it also delivers the on going, in the weeds, support employees need to realize lasting and meaningful change in their workplace behavior. The stark reality is that lasting behavior change happens one employee, one colleague, and one executive at a time; while our attitudes, beliefs and biases, whether conscious or not, are deeply ingrained, extremely personal and very individual in nature.  One example of how to address this is through enhanced workshops that take the learning out of the classroom with support and activities to apply the knowledge and receive support in the real world.  

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Read about our approach to ongoing support in workshops at “Turn Leadership Training into World Class Growth Experiences.”

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Diversity coaching, when delivered through a digital coaching platform, becomes an affordable and scalable way to leverage the benefits of an immersion approach with wide coverage and deep dissemination. At the same time, the “always on” and “always available” features of digital coaching allow employees to engage and enlist support when their workplace behavior around diversity matters most.

The most compelling reason that diversity coaching is more effective than diversity training is that instructor-led classroom training is not at all conducive to the deeply introspective self-discovery and personal acceptance demanded by the emotionally freighted subject matter. Diversity coaching in a 1:1 digital coaching format utilizes a well-trained and experienced coach, who ensures a confidential, safe and supportive “learning zone” where employees can freely examine, explore and resolve their own unique knowledge gaps, fears and challenges when embracing workplace diversity.

With immersion diversity training, no matter the level of trust among the group, regardless of “sacrosanct” ground rules about confidentiality or admonitions to peers to remain judgment-free; if a colleague says something inappropriate, offensive, or ignorant, it can’t be unsaid and unheard by co-workers. Besides, it is naive to pretend that it didn’t happen and won’t get back to the office, which ultimately undermines the efficacy of diversity training because now there’s “evidence” in the rumor mill that a certain manager is racist, homophobic, sexist, etc.

Diversity coaching is neither designed nor intended to change an employee’s belief structure, but rather to enable bias-free workplace behavior and decision-making. The digital coaching environment is uniquely suited to learning and development skills in diversity and inclusion because an employee can honestly think through, articulate and confront the thoughts and beliefs that motivate workplace behavior and choices in a caring and instructive dialogue with the coach.  And this coaching is combined with frequent activities to encourage the employee to practice and engage in ways that foster inclusiveness – only by trying new approaches and receiving feedback can employees learn more effective ways to manage.

Moreover, the 1:1 diversity coaching can facilitate an employee’s self-actualization and personal action plan for making a difference by embracing diversity within the organization. While providing the ability to course correct, test new skills and process feedback along the way. As companies seek more effective and efficient ways to manage diversity, it is clear that diversity coaching delivered through a digital technology platform will define the next generation of diversity and inclusion solutions.

By Thomas Williams

Thomas Williams is former Chief Diversity Officer and Executive Director of Talent Management at Quest Diagnostics and former Chief Diversity Officer and chief human resources officer for various other global companies. 

CareerWave is a technology-driven leadership development and inclusiveness solution that blends coaching, training and organizational growth tools to transform manages and companies with highly effective coaching that is scalable and affordable. We offer an out-of-the-box coaching solution using human coaches to work with your employees, all at 80% less cost than traditional coaches. To learn more about our services, contact us at info@careerwave.me or visit us at careerwave.me.  Read more at our learning center.

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