Diversity training is defined differently by every organization. From a broad perspective, diversity training is training aimed at raising employee awareness about differences among individuals in the workplace and how those differences impact the way people work, individually and with others. From a narrow perspective, diversity training is training aimed at compliance with federal and state employment laws.
Diversity encompasses the human attributes that are different among various groups. These attributes include (but are not limited to) age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, education, income, marital status, and religion.
Diversity training provides several benefits for employers and employees. First, diversity training helps to prevent discrimination and to support inclusiveness. It increases staff morale, productivity, and retention. It improves organizational responsiveness to diverse customers and community relations. It promotes creativity and communication. It increases an organization's ability to adjust to change and its accessibility and accountability regarding the community it serves.
Diversity training can be grouped into three general types. The first is awareness training. This type of diversity training aims at increasing awareness of diversity-related issues and discussing assumptions and stereotypes. Awareness training increases employee knowledge and sensitivity regarding diversity. The second type of diversity training is skills training. This type of training focuses on changing behavior and teaches employees how to respond to diversity-based differences on the job. Types of skills taught in this training might include coaching, interviewing, delegating, and conflict resolution. The third type of diversity training is integrated training. This type of training integrates diversity into existing training programs.
Challenges in providing diversity training vary by organization. One challenge regularly cited by organizations was lack of available time. Committing employees’ time to attend diversity training means that the employees are not working during those hours. Another challenge is employee resistance and fear of change. Lastly, some organizations think that the benefits of diversity training do not outweigh the costs.(ML Wheeler, Diverisity Training Research Report, 1994)
Many people think that diversity is the same as equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative action. Although each is aimed at attaining a just and all-encompassing workplace, the two are very different. Equal employment opportunity involves hiring practices that do not discriminate due to race, ethnicity, gender, or religion. Affirmative action involves hiring practices that try to address past discrimination to ensure equal employment opportunities. Both EEO and affirmative action are regulated by the federal government and focus on hiring. Diversity training is voluntary and addresses more issues than just hiring, such as the work environment and individual beliefs.
Diversity training began in public organizations (military, government, colleges/universities) in the1960s as a reaction to the civil rights movement. The aim of these educational training sessions was to increase understanding and awareness of differences in race. At this time, the use of encounter groups was the primary training method. This encompassed bringing multiracial groups together for an emotional and confrontational discussion about racism. In the 1970s and 1980s diversity training began to include issues of gender differences. Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, businesses began implementing diversity training to protect against civil rights suits. Also in the 1990s, diversity training expanded to address sexual orientation, age, religion, and national origin.