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Effective IDEA Training: Overcoming Common Misconceptions and Mistakes

Inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) training is often viewed as ineffective by prospective clients. This viewpoint may have a basis in fact. Research has yielded evidence that most IDEA training fails to achieve significant change within the culture of organizations and may even be detrimental. Sociologists Alexandra Kalev and Frank Dobbin write, “...the typical diversity training program doesn’t just fail to promote diversity, it leads to declines in management diversity.”

However, when done right, training can be a powerful tool in change management. Here are some common mistakes and misconceptions that lead to failed IDEA training, along with recommendations for improvement.

The Importance of Experience and Expertise in DEI Training Providers

Recent studies have shown that not all diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training programs are equal. Many new DEI training providers lack the education, experience, or knowledge to create an effective learning environment that yields desired learning outcomes. When selecting a DEI training provider, consider the following factors:

  • how long they’ve been in the field,
  • what qualifications the curriculum developers and facilitators possess,
  • whether they are topic specialists,
  • if the coursework is research-based, and if
  • they use adult learning principles to create superior learning outcomes.

The provider’s experience in the field is one of the most critical factors. Research has shown that DEI training programs that have been around for more extended periods are often more effective than newer providers. This is because experienced providers have been able to refine their curriculum, training techniques, and learning outcomes based on real-world experience and feedback.

Another essential factor to consider is the qualifications of the curriculum developers and facilitators. A Society for Human Resource Management study found that individuals lead effective DEI training programs with significant experience and expertise in the field. Organizations should look for providers whose facilitators are subject matter experts with advanced degrees or certifications in related fields such as sociology, psychology, or cultural studies.

It is essential to consider whether the DEI training provider specializes in the specific topics relevant to your organization. For example, suppose your organization is concerned with 2SLGBTQI+ Inclusion or Inclusive Leadership. In that case, you should seek a provider specializing in those topics rather than a general DEI training program.

Organizations should also look for DEI training providers who base their coursework on research. Research-based programs are more likely to be effective and yield the desired outcomes. It is important to note that some DEI training providers may claim to use research-based methods. It would be best to ask for specifics and verify that their approaches are evidence-based.

Use of Adult Learning Principles

Organizations should also look for DEI training providers who use adult learning principles to create superior learning outcomes. Adult learning principles involve creating an interactive, collaborative, and engaging learning environment that allows participants to apply their new knowledge and skills immediately. This approach is more likely to lead to lasting behavioural change and improvements in DEI efforts within an organization.

Adult learning principles are based on the understanding that adults learn differently from children. Therefore, training programs should be designed to meet their unique needs. In DEI training, this means creating an environment that allows participants to engage with the material actively, reflect on their own experiences, and apply the lessons learned to their everyday work.

Research has shown that adult learning principles can lead to more effective DEI training outcomes. A study by the University of North Carolina found that adult learning principles, such as active participation and reflection, led to better knowledge retention and improved attitudes toward diversity among participants. A study by the University of Minnesota found that DEI training programs incorporating adult learning principles were more likely to lead to changes in behaviour and increased diversity awareness in the workplace.

Research has shown that interactive and collaborative learning environments are more effective than traditional lecture-style training. A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that interactive training methods, such as group discussions and case studies, led to better retention of information and increased motivation to apply what was learned.

Incorporating adult learning principles into DEI training programs can lead to more effective outcomes, including increased knowledge retention, improved attitudes toward diversity, and changes in behaviour. Interactive and collaborative learning environments are particularly effective in promoting lasting behavioural change and improving DEI efforts within an organization.

Training Alone is Ineffective

IDEA training and development can only be one aspect of the solution. Several factors must be considered to be effective in becoming a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable organization. These include a clear IDEA strategy, organizational IDEA objectives, goals or metrics, and effective IDEA policies, practices, and conventions. If not backed by clear goals and objectives, training will be ineffective. Education is unlikely to succeed if it is not built into policies and practices.

Research supports DEI training alone cannot create a diverse and inclusive workplace. A study by Harvard Business Review found that diversity training alone was ineffective in increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The study suggested that organizations must take a more comprehensive approach that includes structural changes, such as establishing clear goals, policies, and practices supporting DEI.

Moreover, a report by McKinsey & Company found that organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion perform better than their less diverse peers. The report found that companies with diverse executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

Therefore, organizations must have a clear IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility) strategy, goals, and metrics to track progress. These should be integrated into policies, practices, and conventions to ensure that diversity and inclusion are baked into the organizational culture. With clear goals and objectives, DEI training and development can become a practical solution.

Soft Skills? You Can’t Train Those!

Soft skills can be trained. A quick online search will find many studies that validate that a person can develop soft skills. Soft skills are needed to create inclusive leaders, including listening, empathy, leadership, collaboration, and adaptability.

Soft skills are increasingly recognized as critical competencies for workplace success, particularly in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Research has shown that these skills can be trained and developed through various methods, including coaching, experiential learning, and deliberate practice.

A study by Olga Epitropaki and colleagues (2017) found that leadership development programs that included cognitive and affective components, such as self-reflection and feedback, led to significant improvements in leadership skills, including empathy and collaboration. Another study by Chadwick Royal and colleagues (2019) found that training interventions focused on emotional intelligence skills, such as self-awareness and empathy, significantly improved these skills over time.

Moreover, research has also shown that soft skills training can positively impact various organizational outcomes, including employee engagement, productivity, and retention. A study by Margo Murray and colleagues (2011) found that coaching interventions focused on developing emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills significantly improved job satisfaction and performance among executives.

Additionally, a study by Lorraine Stomski and colleagues (2018) found that deliberate practice, which involves focused repetition and feedback, can significantly improve communication and collaboration skills. This supports the idea that soft skills can be trained and developed through intentional and focused effort.

Another study by Nataliya Baytalska and colleagues (2019) found that diversity and inclusion training focused on building empathy, communication, and collaboration skills improved employees’ attitudes toward diversity and increased their willingness to engage in inclusive behaviours.

These studies support the idea that soft skills, including those necessary for DEI, can be trained and developed through various methods. Including soft skills training as part of DEI initiatives can lead to improved individual and organizational outcomes and a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

Therefore, organizations should consider including soft skills development as part of their DEI training programs. It can be a powerful tool for developing inclusive leaders and promoting a more diverse and equitable workplace.

We Gave You Mandatory DEI Training. What More Do You Need?

One-and-done training has limited value. It takes time to learn new skills and develop new understandings. Mandating IDEA training sends the wrong message and may make the training appear punitive. DEI training needs to be part of an ongoing learning path that encourages self-reflection, a learning mindset, expanding knowledge and understanding, and opportunities to practice.

Research has shown that one-time DEI training sessions are ineffective and insufficient for meaningful organizational change. For instance, a meta-analysis by Eden King and colleagues (2020) found that diversity training alone is inadequate to promote long-term behaviour change and reduce prejudice.

Instead, DEI training should be viewed as a process that requires ongoing commitment and effort. One way to achieve this is by incorporating DEI training as part of a more extensive learning and development program, which includes opportunities for continuous learning and growth. This approach reinforces the importance of DEI in the organization’s culture. It provides employees with the skills and tools to effectively address DEI issues.

Furthermore, DEI training should be designed to promote a learning mindset and encourage self-reflection. A study by Robin Ely and colleagues (2019) found that training that includes opportunities for self-reflection and dialogue is more effective in promoting behavioural change than traditional diversity training. This is because it encourages participants to examine their biases and assumptions and engage in honest and open dialogue with others.

Incorporating ongoing DEI training into an organization’s culture requires a long-term commitment and a willingness to invest in employees’ growth and development. However, the benefits of doing so are numerous. A study by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev (2016) found that organizations that invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives have higher employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity levels.

DEI training should not be viewed as a one-time event but as part of a more considerable learning and development program that encourages ongoing growth and self-reflection. By incorporating DEI training into an organization’s culture, employees are better equipped to address DEI issues, which can lead to improved individual and organizational outcomes.


Research has shown that diversity training can be effective only when done right. One study found that diversity training programs that emphasized the skills needed to work in diverse teams were more effective than those that focused solely on raising awareness of differences. Another study found that diversity training combined with diversity evaluations and accountability measures can increase diversity within the organization.

In conclusion, IDEA training and development can be effective when approached thoughtfully and strategically. The issue is not with training, learning, or education but with poor-quality course design or weak facilitators, lack of a cohesive training and development plan, and unclear goals and objectives. Addressing these issues is vital to developing an organizational culture that embraces inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility in the workplace.

#DEItraining #DEItrainingAtWork #InclusiveTraining #CommonMisconceptions #DEImistakes



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