How to make your DEI curriculum engaging, meaningful and inclusive
By Kristen Motzer, Learning Director, LRN
August 23 2021 - Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become increasingly popular in light of significant social events, which has led to many companies internally reviewing their DEI curriculums. However, traditional corporate training has become outdated and is not effective in improving inclusivity within workplace culture. Therefore, companies should seek better learning strategies to help engage and inspire their employees.
Underline the grey areas
Ethics and compliance training done in the past usually adopted a “should and shouldn’t do” structure, however, DEI topics are much more complicated than that. A DEI curriculum should be primarily focussed on helping people understand what systemic issues need to be changed and encouraging them to look internally and thinking twice about their own perceptions. These topics cannot be seen as black and white, as there are so many grey areas in between. By equipping people with the correct skills to navigate through them, this will make a great contribution to developing a respectful workplace environment.
It is impractical to believe that training done once a year would lead to behavioural change. One of the important things to remember when designing a DEI programme is to engage learners consistently instead of doing one-off training sessions. This can be done through the practice of microlearning, which is the method of delivering easy to access learning bites to employees whenever, and wherever it is needed. By using this approach, it can increase the retention rate of learners, and can also improve their ability to apply the training material learned. Adopting this strategy works particularly well with DEI topics that aim to modify behaviour on an individual and company-wide scale. Moreover, implementing a consistent microlearning system that reinforces key learning material will create sustainable change. When coupled with activities that provide different learning experiences such as videos, infographics, and quizzes, this will keep people engaged, and serve as an avenue to communication. A DEI curriculum should not only operate as a learning plan, it should be a way of promoting engagement and encouraging healthy communication throughout the entire year.
Balancing individual and collaborative learning
If incorporating a DEI curriculum is seen more as a journey, and less like an on-paper guide, it will help the organisation to discuss sensitive topics around DEI. Learning about such areas might prompt discussion and self-reflection, which is why it is essential to provide a balance of individual and collaborative elements.
By assessing the full range of curriculum assets and deciding which areas need allocated time for people to properly understand, process, and apply what they have learned, it will make it easier to include group conversations into the mix.
Real change starts at the top
For organisations to succeed in integrating DEI into daily operations, change must first start at the top. Executives and managers need to be advocates for DEI and become representational leaders in order for employees to adopt the same mindset and behaviour. People are less likely to change their behaviour according to a company’s desire if they do not see the behaviour mirrored by people at the top. That said, convincing leaders to prioritise any type of learning is still one of the challenges faced by learning and development professionals on a global scale. A way through this would be to assimilate them into the curriculum by either creating training specially tailored to them, or having them lead wider group discussions. Senior-level employees should set an example by guiding the learning journey with their co-workers.
Adopting a global approach
Companies with offices planted around the globe need to have a DEI curriculum that has a multinational approach. This means going beyond including imagery of people from different nationalities to see things through a global lens and making the effort to make content more relatable. A solution is to ensure the wider learning experience accounts for cultural differences. The unfortunate fact is that racism and discrimination is a universal issue, and how it exists may vary depending on the location. This is an element that DEI materials should aim to account for, particularly focussing on the most basic human emotion of empathy and seeing similarities within each other to build a connection.
Keeping it real
Human stories build empathy, and by using real people with real-world examples in DEI curriculums, the content will have a stronger chance of resonating with the learners. By listening to people discuss issues in an unscripted manner, employees are more likely to relate to their own human experiences. By forming a human connection over these stories, this will drive people’s empathy.
Similarly to other learning experiences, it is imperative that DEI programmes also offer advice on how to apply the lessons learned during the sessions, to real-life scenarios. By giving clear and direct examples of how learners think outside of the box and apply their learning, this can also improve behaviour. For example, by encouraging them to have lunch with someone who is not necessarily within their immediate circle, or by ensuring all voices are heard during a meeting, these are simple actions employees can demonstrate to show the true progress of their learning.
The goal of having a DEI curriculum is to ensure employees feel they are in a safe place to ask questions and share experiences when discussing DEI topics. Therefore, it is essential that the learning process is human-centred, and that respect for other people is always brought into consideration. Connecting over real stories can be a way to help people do this, by showing empathy towards one another learners are more likely to form stronger bonds.
Additionally, learning individually is not enough to change behaviour. Collective communication and engagement need to be sustained throughout the entire year in order to see real progression within an organisation.