Create and Implement an Effective Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training Program
Why it’s good for your company’s culture and business
By Michael R. Komo, Esq
Having an effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training program is a thoughtful way to enhance your company’s culture and business, but where do you start?
Countless people have told me that they want to say and do the “right” thing, but they are terrified of saying and doing the “wrong” thing. As a result, often people don’t ask questions they should ask in order to learn and evolve. There must be a solution, right? Right! Having meaningful conversations at work through a DEI training program is an effective way to educate people in a safe space. We will examine why facilitating these conversations is not only the “right” thing to do but how it is smart for business.
STEP 1: IDENTIFYING WHO WILL ADDRESS DEI MATTERS
Before you can create and implement your DEI training program, you need to identify who at your company will tackle DEI-related matters. When I was an eager first-year associate at my law firm, in addition to practicing law, of course, I wanted to create a safe space and provide a vehicle at the firm to address matters of interest to LGBTQ+ employees and allies. Wait. What does LGBTQ+ mean? Good question! LGBTQ+ is the acronym that refers to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning). What does the “plus” mean? The plus is inclusive of sexual and gender minorities that are not specifically covered by the other five initials.
Even though DEI work was not in my job description, I expressed a desire in doing DEI work at my firm, and the firm empowered me. What started as me working on issues pertinent to the LGBTQ+ community in my local office of my firm has turned into me serving as a leader who has worked across dozens of offices to provide training, programming, and support firmwide on a variety of DEI matters.
Don’t let the size of your place of employment be a deterrent from taking this initial step. You could have one person or several people working on DEI programming and training. A small (but mighty) team can get the job done. After all, having something in place is better than nothing. You may know someone at work who is passionate about DEI work, and if you don’t, consider asking. More often than not, someone is interested, able, and willing to work on DEI-related matters, and that person is probably passionate about the subject matter.
STEP 2: CREATING THE CONTENT FOR A DEI TRAINING
After you have identified who will do the DEI work, the next step is creating the content.
Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have an academic background in DEI studies. Most people don’t have such a background. While I have the benefit of having studied LGBTQ+ & Sexuality and Women & Gender Studies prior to attending law school, it wasn’t (and isn’t) necessary to be an effective agent of change. You don’t have to be a DEI scholar to be a DEI champion.
Also, it doesn’t take a teacher or professor to create educational content for training. You can look to real-world examples you have experienced or seen. Each of us can contribute meaningfully to the DEI conversation and learn from one another — if we listen. If you’re concerned about curating content for training, consider hiring a DEI consultant to help your team with the work if you want some additional support and expertise.
STEP 3: IMPLEMENTING A DEI TRAINING
Once you’ve created the content, it’s now time to implement the training.
The first rule of providing a good training: There are no stupid questions! Saying that up front (and meaning it) will provide a safe space for people to learn and feel comfortable asking questions they want to ask.
One time, when I was explaining the benefits of having a group dedicated to addressing LGBTQ+ issues (among other DEI issues), someone asked me, “What about these BLT people?” I didn’t know if he was talking about gay people or a mysterious race of sandwich people. Now, I use that quote as a funny example when I’m giving a DEI training, and that story makes them feel at ease for a time they may not have said something perfectly.
Every person is unique, and as a result, each of us has a different lived experience and vantage point. Your identity may have afforded you the opportunity to have more familiarity with and different levels of knowledge regarding DEI matters. For instance, if you’re not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you may not be as familiar with the LGBTQ+ acronym. That’s okay! You may be thinking to yourself, “How am I supposed to keep all of these DEI concepts and acronyms straight?” Well, I’m gay I can’t keep anything straight. How do you think I feel?! Humor works. Who wants to be lectured? Not me! Making people laugh is a fun and effective way to change hearts and minds.
Indeed, a moment of levity goes a long way — especially in a DEI training. No one person is the expert on all DEI matters, and we are all going to make mistakes. As Frank Sinatra would have said, “That’s life.” We are constantly learning from one another and working toward the same goal — furthering the needle on DEI — regardless of our demographics — and we can have fun along the way. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will your DEI training be.
COMMITMENT TO DEI
A commitment to DEI can showcase a company’s core values and provide the type of environment in which we want to work and give our business. For example, I chose my particular doctor’s office because the staff has been trained on working with the LGBTQ+ community. The medical provider I see is straight, and she is the best doctor I have ever had. It is the best healthcare experience I’ve received to date. The reputation of the practice brought me there, and the competent health care and environment has kept me there. DEI work is important — regardless of whether we consider ourselves diverse. Indeed, allies are an integral part of DEI success, and they make a positive difference.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve taken the first step. Give yourself credit for wanting to create and implement a DEI program. You may not become a DEI guru overnight, but you’re already moving in the right direction.
Michael R. Komo an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, and State of Georgia, lifelong diversity and inclusion (DEI) advocate, and professional development manager. Mr. Komo has been recognized at the local, state, and national levels for his DEI accomplishments.