Donna Dockery shares research on why most diversity training fails
As the new year begins, many organizations are trying to make a sincere commitment to creating more equitable spaces for underrepresented employees. Despite the billions of dollars who have been poured into diversity programs, more education is needed to better understand how to advance, develop and support racialized employees. A lack of understanding about issues such as bamboo ceiling, distinction of hair, tone font, colorismand experiences of first generation professionals hinders an organization’s ability to cultivate inclusive spaces. In addition to interventions like sponsorship programs, affinity groups, and accountability measures that can help retain underrepresented employees, organizations should provide learning opportunities for employees. Interest in unconscious bias training has exploded in recent years, but there is no conclusive evidence on the positive effects of these types of trainings. Any organization looking to include diversity workshops in their strategic plan should be aware of the pitfalls and best practices to ensure success. Donna Dockery is an anti-racist educator and consultant with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Dockery’s thesis research focused on diversity trainings and the variables that can impact the effectiveness of these trainings. Dockery sat down with Forbes to discuss her research, what she learned, and best practices for companies implementing this type of training.
Janice Gassam Asare: You recently completed your doctorate. What was your area of interest? What were some of the key findings from your research?
Donna Dockery: My research has focused on diversity trainings and their impact on the realization of ethnic identity among non-minority participants. Ethnic identity [can be described as] the process of reaching a level of self-awareness that one’s behaviors and attitudes are no longer directed by racial consciousness. My research looked closely at whether diversity training made a difference [in] this level of self-awareness. My study compared aspects of ethnic identity before and after diversity training. What has been found is that very little change occurs after just one diversity training. My study confirmed that engaging in these important conversations leads to a change in understanding of one’s ethnic identity, which is an important step towards an equitable workplace.
In the same way: Based on your research, what are the best practices for DEI training?
Dockery: From my research of DEI trainings, best practices would include more than the basics of what microaggression is or why discrimination is bad, but also a lot of internal work for participants. In addition to having an intellectual understanding of the material, participants should have a broad understanding of how they interact with the material. What part does their identity play in their attitude and behavior towards others? Does their lack of understanding of their own ethnic identity prevent them from understanding or acknowledging the struggles of others?
In the same way: What are the reasons why DEI trainings are ineffective?
Dockery: There are several reasons why DEI trainings are ineffective… first they are usually voluntary, which means the people who usually need it the most and usually the people who don’t like it… don’t show up. They are also commonly done once a year or in reaction to something bad, which seems dishonest. These are not conversations that can happen like an annual training or even a special week or a special conversation in February. These trainings must be continuous. As a psychologist, I know that one of the best ways to change behaviors and attitudes is to make consistent and repetitive changes, almost [like] a practice makes the state of mind perfect.
In the same way: What are some best practices you can share with organizational leaders who want to foster an equity-based environment?
Dockery: I would say that organizational leaders need to have a good understanding of their intentions and be proactive… have real and measurable goals, [so that] you make the progress you want. Have a level of transparency with all employees [as well as] authentic communication. This requires making follow-up calls or showing up to meetings where important decisions and conversations are taking place. Make your DEI efforts a priority…make it part of your annual budget. It should be rooted in your professional activities. Ask for help and recognize that it may mean outside help…someone to come with an outside perspective.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.