A New Approach to an Age-Old Challenge: Giving Your Diversity Training a Refresh


I have to believe most companies want to have inclusive, diverse workforces. They should understand that it not only helps corporate morale, but it also improves the bottom line. Let’s discover how organizations can approach their diversity training to be successful.

Diversity training and its impact on corporate culture is an issue that reaches beyond Human Resources to now directly involve the C-suite. According to the Deloitte 2017 Global Human Capital Trends surveyOpens a new window , “Thirty-eight percent of executives report that the primary sponsor of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts is the CEO.”

In light of this, corporate diversity and inclusion must expand beyond catchy mission statements and mandatory training because employees care about this issue – deeply. Companies who don’t realize that confronting bias is essential for a strong corporate culture will pay a heavy price.

Just ask Google.

In early November 2018, Google employees in over 20 global offices walked out to protest its corporate policies around (and its conduct in handling) sexual misconduct, which came to light in a recent New York Times article.Opens a new window

A New Approach to an Age-old Issue

It’s a safe assumption that most companies want to have inclusive, diverse workforces. They understand that it not only helps corporate morale, but it also improves the bottom line: diverse workforces – inclusive voices – are more innovative.

Scheduled to be available later this year, Pioneers in Skirts is a social impact documentary confronting the gender-bias and sexism that can chip away at a woman, hurt her potential, and make her feel like she must re-think her dreams.

In researching for the film, we learned that the traditional training that companies are providing their people are choreographed videos of actors in ‘workplace situations’ versus dynamic storytelling. While those videos may help to educate on the topic, they don’t do enough to show employees what the lack of diversity and inclusion really feels like. Instead, it’s important to introduce fresh perspectives that give employees an opportunity to experience and offer ways they can reflect on the topic.  

When director and producer Ashley Maria came to me with the idea for the film, I knew it was an issue that I could relate to. I worked in the Tech space before opening my own company. I was often the only woman in the room or on a project. Ashley shared her struggle and described the bias she experienced as a director in the film industry. I was shocked. I thought we were past this. But we’re not. Gender bias, sexism, the ‘mommy tax’; it’s all alive and well, unfortunately. I knew the film, which addresses these career challenges, had to be made because it would change women’s lives.

Also Read: 5 Ways to Use Digital Transformation for a More Effective HR ApproachOpens a new window

Telling the Right Story

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, formal training is the normal route companies take for diversity education. However, that type of training often lacks the two things training needs to be successful: “perspective-taking” which is described as “the process of mentally walking in someone else’s shoes” and goal setting.

Documentaries like Pioneers in Skirts put a viewer into someone else’s experience, in this case women experiencing gender bias. This level of storytelling (or perspective-taking) is much more relatable than the traditional training model, because the people she or he sees are real, not actors placed in awkward situations. The viewer can experience empathy, which is key to changing behavior. Interestingly, the Harvard article authors found something very encouraging in their perspective-taking experiment:

“[It] was shown to be capable of producing crossover effects. [For example,] taking the perspective of LBGT individuals was shown to be associated with more positive attitudes and behaviors toward racial minorities, and vice versa.”

It would seem that gaining empathy for one group leads to empathy for other groups as well.

Gender inequality is a human issue, not a women’s issue. But sometimes it can be tough to talk about, especially at an individual level. This is why we created a film that feels like a conversation. This topic can be stressful and at times overwhelming to talk about, especially for women. We made sure to include the stories of different people: women of all ages (from teens to millennials to Gen Xers), men who advocate for women, all working together to take action and pursue change.

Setting Goals

We also suggest setting a personal goal after diversity training ends. This enables the employee to make a behavior change. And when management empowers the individual making the goal by supporting the goal-setting process, the collective corporate culture changes.

Documentaries often have calls to action that can promote goal setting. For example, Pioneers in Skirts weaves solutions that address gender bias into its storytelling, which could provide companies and employees with ideas for personal goals. 

The film shows real-life examples of how to have difficult conversations. We also provide proven strategies and techniques other women have used when dealing with the barriers in front of them.

Bridging the Gap: Creating Corporate Partners

Knowing where to begin or how to adopt a new approach to training on diversity and inclusion is one of the biggest challenges corporations face. However, most companies are slow-adopters to change.

Few companies want to be the first, so Pioneers in Skirts was created as a way for companies to get involved and participate in the conversation our film is having without it feeling like a huge risk is being taken. As a result, we created a Community Partner programOpens a new window that allows companies to get involved with the film prior to its release and then host an exclusive screening once it’s available.

Work Equality Requires an Investment

Companies like Return Path are choosing to invest money and time in their diversity and inclusion training.

After Return Path executive Dennis Dayman watched a rough cut of the film, he convinced his management team to contribute funding to the film. Return Path asked if they could test screen the film as a way to reaffirm their commitment to equality and diversity among their employees.

We agreed and it screened in the Return Path Denver office. Employees attended facilitated break-out sessions after the screening to discuss the feelings and thoughts people had as they watched the film.

Those meaningful conversations were so successful that Return Path increased its donation so they could secure a Community Partner position with the film. They plan to screen the film’s final version to their employees globally.

Diversity Means Dollars

Data shows that companies with diverse workforces, as well as diverse leadership, financially outperform their counterparts who don’t. In fact, according to Deloitte-Australia,

“When employees think their organization is committed to, and supportive of diversity and they feel included, employees report better business performance in terms of ability to innovate, (83% uplift) responsiveness to changing customer needs (31% uplift) and team collaboration (42% uplift).”

I am confident that if companies replace a traditional training approach of ‘one video and done’ and rather adopt a more tailored model that includes a creative element, like documentaries, there will be more meaningful conversations over time. This, in turn, will lead to true change in corporate cultures and, hopefully, an end to bias and a lack of diversity in the workplace.

Also Read: A New Approach to an Age-Old Challenge: Giving Your Diversity Training a RefreshOpens a new window