Did you know that, in a Harvard Business Review survey of over 500 professionals, 87% of respondents indicated that their company’s unconscious bias training didn’t go much past explaining the science behind bias and the costs of discrimination in organizations? Do you know that when a trainer repeats stereotypes in unconscious bias training sessions, that the impact is to reinforce biases, and not to reduce them? And do you know that research has confirmed that most diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training is simply not hitting the mark, and is not converting into more diversity, more inclusion and more equity?

Why is this the case? Why do we keep on directing billions of dollars to DEI training, without these investments moving the needle on DEI?

It starts with not linking the training and development initiatives to the strategic narrative for diversity. When diversity training and development is done in a vacuum, when training is seen to constitute a check-list of to-do’s to satisfy compliance requirements or is seen as window-dressing, then investments in diversity do not pay off. Nor do they pay off when diversity training is mandatory. This was shown convincingly by the research of Corinne A. Moss-Racusin outlined in AScientific Diversity” Intervention to Reduce Gender Bias in a Sample of Life Scientists. The research found that a 120-minute implicit bias training workshop will contribute to long-term behavioral change in mitigating bias when  Moss-Racusin’s four key diversity intervention design elements are present. These elements include:

  • Interventions based on theory and empirical evidence rather than intuition.
  • Approaches utilize active learning to foster participants’ dynamic engagement with workshop content.
  • Diversity presented as a shared goal and responsibility rather than the “fault” of one group or individual.
  • Rigorous evaluation to assess efficacy, where outcomes being assessed are a.) an increase in participants’ awareness of diversity issues; b.) a reduction of participants’ biases; and c.) the preparedness of participants to take action on diversity-related issues rather than avoid diversity-related conversations and issues.

However unconscious bias workshops are not a silver bullet. Learning and development (L&D) must consider how to move leaders from being unconsciously unskilled in leading diversity to a place where leaders are consciously skilled and proficient diversity leaders. Leaders are unconsciously unskilled when they “do not know what they do not know.” For example, a leader is unconsciously unskilled when they are unaware of their own biases or are unable to identify talent blind spots in the organization. Consequently, they are unskilled in intervening when discriminatory behavior occurs. Leaders are consciously skilled when they have been trained on unconscious bias, have obtained insight into their own biases and when they have built a vocabulary with which to identify talent blind spots in the organization and they have been given the tools and the practice to intervene constructively when bias emerges.

But what does it mean to be an inclusive leader, and how can organizations develop inclusive leadership?

An inclusive leader is a leader who constantly and consistently practices inclusive practices and is seen by all observers as inclusive. An inclusive leader is not someone who treats people in an inclusive way four out of five times. No, an inclusive leader is someone who is evaluated each and every day as an inclusive leader, by all observers and participants in their interactions.

Thus, it is important for organizations to focus on what it means in practice to be an inclusive leader, and to support the development of the underlying skills that leaders need to be inclusive The traits of an inclusive leader have been researched extensively and are reflected in a number of traits. An inclusive leader is someone who is an authentic leader of diversity because their quest for diversity does not originate from the diversity decree of the organization alone, but stems from their personal values and commitments. Inclusive leaders are committed to learning about their own biases and are aware of the talent blind spots in their organizations and work to regulate these biases. Inclusive leaders are also courageous and will not allow discrimination and biased behavior to occur without intervention executed in a respectful and humble way. And inclusive leaders are those who demonstrate empathy and interest, and are culturally intelligent and great collaborators.

Research shows that 70% of the perception of an inclusive environment is directly linked to the behaviors and actions of leaders of an organization. Thus organizations should focus their training and development efforts into creating a bedrock of inclusive leaders.

The outcome of the training and development efforts should be equipping leaders to be courageous and authentic leaders who practice inclusion and pioneer equity each day. So, what can organizations do in practice? They can start by making it clear that, to be a leader in the organization, one needs to be an inclusive leader, which means practicing inclusiveness each and every day. This means evaluating leaders on being inclusive leaders and linking their personal inclusiveness index (through real feedback) to key career moments, such as promotion, remuneration and stretch assignments.

It also means delivering development opportunities that support inclusive leaders. Organizations are increasingly building skills around leaders having courageous discussions, improving their deep listening skills, extending their cultural intelligence skills and equipping them to be strong sponsors and mentors.

L&D leaders have a critical role to play in advancing DEI across the enterprise. They need to support leaders in becoming inclusive leaders. They need to equip leaders with a clear picture of what it means to be inclusive and to create programs that create long-term behavioral changes by both raising leaders’ consciousness and by building the skills that support inclusion now and in the future.