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Lior Locher


Learning Consultant

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A time of reckoning for L&D: Who does what in diversity, equity and inclusion? 

In the first instalment of a new content series, Lior Locher and Dr Christy Allen share a UK and US perspective, respectively, on the major trends driving diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and how organisations can incorporate important lessons in meaningful DEI actions.
silhouette of nine persons standing on the hill

Shifting political climates and major trends in learning and development are calling organisations to reckon with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Let’s delve into the major trends driving DEI efforts right now.

The UK view: Support is shrinking

Lior: Here in the UK where I am based, I notice a lot of provisions or support ‘shrinking’ that would have formerly sat with the government or in the public sector (eg. healthcare or other support). 

People have started having to rely on charities to fill this or have to pay privately for support if they are able to. 

Increasingly, people are now starting to look to employers to step up (similar to what the situation is already like in the US), and also to communicate that support loudly and clearly.  

People have started having to rely on charities ... or have to pay privately for support

The US view: DEI efforts are facing backlash

Christy: Here in the US, the answer to the question “will you take a stand?” was answered in the affirmative by many organisations in 2020. 

It seemed a long overdue transformational cultural moment, as organisations invested in diversity, equity and inclusion roles, programmes and training on an unprecedented scale. 

And now we’re facing the backlash – with hiring for DEI positions down by 48% year over year. 

Every day there is a new headline: at the time of writing, more than 30 US states have introduced bills banning or limiting DEI initiatives in their current legislative session, with three states having already enacted bans. 

While these have been largely targeted at higher education, the intention to expand this towards corporations is well documented

Boldness is waning

It’s no surprise if some have started questioning their efforts, eliminating diversity departments and positions, and considering scaling back how bold they feel they can be in their training scenarios. 

Some organisations may be tempted to try to lay low as the perceived heat externally increases, and stick to mostly performative marketing during Pride Month, or to offer watered down compliance training to check a box without taking the conversation beyond that.

More than 30 US states have introduced bills banning or limiting DEI initiatives

The UK view: Inconsistencies between words and actions

It doesn’t feel quite as timid here, but signalling is often inconsistent between what organisations say versus what they do on a very practical level. 

Purpose (often largely driven by marketing) is a bigger conversation, as in, why does this company exist and what does it contribute to the common good. 

The ‘common good’ piece can come in at different ‘volumes’ and will then (re)set expectations both from customers and employees across a whole set of factors (DEI, sustainability etc.) 

Accordingly (e.g. Patagonia’s purpose example: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”). 

And there has also recently been backlash regarding to what extent a product or an organisation needs a higher or bigger purpose beyond who it is and what it does commercially.

So, what does this mean for organisations and how they show up for DEI?

Some organisations may be tempted to try to lay low as the perceived heat externally increases

The UK view: Your organisation will be called into new spaces

Of course organisations will abide by the law where they operate – as they should. But with a diverse group of employees, depending on location, the conversation needs to be a fair bit broader than that. 

How aware are decision makers in your organisation about the current, ever-shifting details across locations, particularly for your LGBTQ+ population? 

Where does an organisation go above and beyond by choice, regardless of where shifting local laws are heading? Is this done quietly or are you willing to take a public stand?

Your organisation will likely be called into areas it might not previously have regarded as ‘its job’. Silence will be very loud, so you won’t be able to evade figuring out where you stand so you can show up accordingly. 

While the outcomes often won’t be learning, these conversations have to be part of a solid approach to business partnering and proper needs analysis. There is a role for learning to play here, closely twinned with communications.  

Signalling is often inconsistent between what organisations say versus what they do

The US view: How can we embed DEI further in other ways?

Our point is, on both sides of the pond – or anywhere on the globe, in fact – the organisations that will be most successful will be those who take a step back at this moment and ask some of the questions the moment demands: 

What does it mean to remain committed to a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment? One that is free of harassment and safe for all peoples?  

With dedicated positions such as Chief Diversity Officer, or dedicated offices in HR among the first to be cut or lose investment, this moment demands organisations to look to embed DEI throughout the organisation in a newer – and possibly more effective – way.  

This means that training itself may be the second (or third or fourth) step along the journey at this cultural moment. While still critical, it must be part of a broader and more strategic approach.

So, how can the above be incorporated into DEI actions?

Your organisation will likely be called into areas it might not previously have regarded as ‘its job’

The US view: Strategy first

The first step has to be strategic – a needs analysis that truly captures where you are and realistically assesses any risks or pressure the organisation may be facing. 

For those subject to potential shifting rulings or legislation here in the US, this analysis may include a realistic assessment related to DEI strategies, policies and training, and how they may need to manifest in a way that achieves business objectives within the confines of the law.

But no matter the risk and results, we still advocate for a well-articulated strategy that outlines what can be done to make processes more inclusive and equitable, leading to the design and development of training and learning journeys that support this. 

This may, and likely will, in many places mean that training may not be the classic DEI modules, such as unconscious bias, and those we’re used to seeing the past few years. 

While challenging, this moment may also open up exciting new avenues for innovation in diversity and inclusion training. 

A lot of it won’t be enormously photogenic for Pride Month ... and yet still it needs to be done

The UK view: Get a grasp of the lay of the land

Do your people (particularly HR and line managers) know what the situation is (legally and in the ongoing conversations in society and politics)? Do they know what they are expected to do (across locations)? 

Do you have employee resource groups for key parts of your population (eg. for LGBTQ+ employees)? How connected are you into the conversations there, and into the community you exist in and do business with? 

Have you/your colleagues done the deeper dive into policies, benefits etc to know what is covered or not? (eg. if you send an LGBTQ+ employee to a location that isn’t safe, are you able to have the robust conversation that needs having to discuss what happens if things go wrong? Who pays for what, what help is available and what will that mean for that person’s job? 

You will be expected to provide that clarity, and ideally find a way to support your people beyond the existing fine print if that isn’t enough. That is also a chance to push your providers to expand coverage and create positive change.    

These are all key (and arguably unglamorous) places to point your needs analysis searchlight. 

The response might be training, or it might be policy and clearer communication, or something else entirely (as is often the case, with more complex topics, you know the drill…). 

A lot of it won’t be enormously photogenic for Pride Month either, and yet still it needs to be done.

Set yourself up for success globally with a strong baseline

Externally, your increasingly sophisticated audience of consumers, future employees and clients will want to hear and understand what you do in practice, how invested your leadership is and how relevant communities were involved in finding the solutions. 

Doing this right will establish a baseline that will set you and your employees up strongly for whatever the future may bring. 

In the articles that follow in our series, we’ll do some deep dives into the various questions you may face as you look to define your purpose, embed your values and continue innovating in this area of L&D. 

If you enjoyed this article, why not read: Are inclusion and free speech mutually exclusive in the workplace?

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Lior Locher

Learning Consultant

Read more from Lior Locher

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