Austin is a project manager who is tasked with choosing a team for an upcoming project. This project has tight deadlines and will require members of the team to work late hours. Austin first chooses two team leads, Mike and Jeff and asks them for their suggestions on the other team members. When they come up with the list, Austin sees that they have left out women from the teams. On questioning, he finds out that both of the team leaders were not ready to consider women for projects requiring late working hours.
A project team of 10 members includes two members of the Muslim community. The team meets every day for a 10-minute discussion on progress on the project. Every Friday, the two Muslim members tend to miss the discussion as the timings clash with their prayer timings. Their absence is causing resentment among the other members, and the group plans to penalize the two for absenteeism.
Company human resources departments and managers of various departments face innumerable such scenarios day in and day out. To handle such issues, many companies incorporate diversity training in their training agenda.
Diversity training is an initiative taken by most companies to create awareness of diversity issues and bring about cohesiveness in teams. But when did this concept start? And What is it that they do in diversity training? How do you train a team in diversity? And Are there different types of diversity trainings? Well, let’s work to answer these questions.
Diversity training started in the1960s in response to civil rights movement. This laid the foundation for a black and white equality in the workplace or for that matter, anything that required teams to work together, even sports. The movie “Remember the Titans” is a story based on the real events of an African-American football coach in the early 1970s, Herman Boone. He brought together black and white players to create a world-class football team.
Apart from color; diversity includes gender, race, religion, caste, and disabilities. Although these are important and most commonly discussed diversity aspects; people may show diversity in terms of personality types (introvert or extrovert), attitudes, values, family background, and willingness to take risks.
It is important for companies to consider all these aspects while building project teams. A team that has all members who are not willing to take risks will not be an ideal team nor will a team where all the members are risk takers. An optimal balance of both types of people will make a successful team.
This type of training is generally used as a sensitizer for employees. It deals with making employees aware of the importance of diversity in business. It also makes employees aware of their prejudices and cultural assumptions about others. The training uses case studies and experiential exercises as the method of training implementation.
This deals with developing employees’ proficiency in handling diversity in the workplace. Various tools are used to take the employees from the awareness to the proficiency stage. The tools used help in improving employees’ interpretation of cross-cultural differences, communication with people from different cultures, and adaptability.
Diversity training may be conducted as lectures, slideshows, elearning courses, interactive games, and role plays. All these methods have their own benefits and drawbacks. But, each method contributes to the awareness in its own way.
“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.”
-Malcolm Forbes, American entrepreneur and publisher of the Forbes magazine
When you look at the formation of a company, whatever the industry, you can see that it requires a team of technically-oriented, human resources–oriented, finance-oriented, and other specialized members. All of these members together form the foundation of an exemplary team.
If you look closely at the team, you find that each of these groups of people requires a different attitude and skills to perform their work functions. And, because they have a specific attitude, behavioral style, thinking style, and skillset they are able to contribute to every aspect of the business.
A technical person will need to know the very factors that make a project successful. Similarly, a human resources person will need to know how to bring out the best performance from the project team. Both these aspects go hand-in-hand to build the company’s reputation.
This also is an example of diversity in the workplace. So, to reiterate, diversity doesn’t only include gender, race, disabilities, and the like. It also includes the team’s attitudes, educational differences, personality types, and willingness to take risks.
The goal of diversity training is to make employees understand that even if there are differences amongst the team members that they are working with, a little adjustment in one’s attitude will make for an extraordinary team. To make them not only tolerant of the differences that they see around them, but to value those differences as a part of successful teams.
In addition to training, are there other ways of bringing awareness about diversity?
Perhaps celebrating festivals of all the different cultures is one way of creating awareness and acceptance. Some companies even create short courses or slideshows for employees who are travelling to other countries. These trainings sensitize the employees to the culture of the country they are visiting, and gives them an idea of how the people’s attitude and behavioral styles are, the dos and don’ts about culture and demeanor to be followed in that country, and so on. This overview helps the employees to be better prepared to accept the differences and still perform their duties appropriately.
Now that we have discussed diversity and diversity training in detail, let’s go back to the scenarios that we saw in the beginning.
Scenario 1: Not considering women for the project just because it involved late working is not acceptable. There are many women who work night shifts and work very well in high-pressure projects. By not choosing woman, those team leaders are likely not selecting the best talent available.
Scenario 2: Changing the timing of team discussion to a later or earlier time would solve the issue. Discipline and resentment will not.
“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”
To bring out the best in your workforce, you need an inclusive environment. In this age of globalization, when we work on multi-faceted projects, we have to think above the conventional diversity aspects of gender, race, caste, creed, and disabilities. We have to choose a team based on a value system that will decide the individual’s capacity to adjust, accommodate, understand, and cooperate in addition to his/her professional acumen.