Employee Experience

Cultural Immersion training to counter diversity fatigue

Exhibition for virtual reality (vr) and training in immersive environments.

When the makeup of US companies more closely matches the makeup of the country’s overall population, and when people of color and women have the same opportunities for advancement as white males, it won’t just be good ethics. It will be good business. 

The benefits of a diverse workforce are hard to refute. McKinsey puts it bluntly: If the gender gap is narrowed by 2025, the US GDP stands to increase by $12 trillion. A Boston Consulting Group survey of 1,700 companies in eight countries found that “companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher.”

Diversity and inclusion efforts are certainly a big push, not just in companies but in all kinds of organizations, including nonprofits, educational institutions, and governmental departments. The more diversity teams have in terms of culture, race, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, experiences, abilities, and even learning styles, the more organizations (and society) stand to gain.
Yet, for all the awareness and efforts, diversity fatigue has set in for many companies: the feeling that all this effort is not making enough of an impact, which isn’t exactly motivating.

The meaning and impact of diversity fatigue

It might seem like a known conundrum, but the term diversity fatigue has been around since the 1990s, according to Employers Council, which defines it as

The stress associated with management’s attempts to diversify the workforce through recruiting and retention efforts. Over recent years, it’s taken on an expanded meaning, to include people just feeling tired of talking about diversity, or the lack thereof.

True learning in the realm of diversity and inclusion requires learners to step into the shoes of others to experience life at work from their point of view and identify behavior in themselves and their team members that could be problematic.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a long game. But it’s important to note that DEI efforts are not necessarily about changing the hearts and minds of your employees — perhaps an unrealistic goal. Increasing diversity and inclusion requires setting the right policies, milestones, expectations, and boundaries to ensure everyone is represented — and, critically, that organizational culture makes them feel welcome and valued.

As an organization, simply changing the overall demographics of the workforce is not enough. It’s also critical to dictate what behavior is acceptable and what is not. What many organizations lack — and what leads to this onus of diversity fatigue — are the skillsets and culture to set them up for success. If diversity efforts are just lip service, they don’t stand a good chance. 

Where are we going wrong with diversity and inclusion efforts?

While most companies today claim they care about DEI, many stay stuck in an outdated cultural mindset. Perhaps they’re hiring more equitably on the frontlines and at entry level, and maybe even advancing diverse people through managerial roles. But as you scan the hierarchy of leadership, homogeneity reigns. Just under 90% of US CEOs are white, and roughly the same amount are male. The majority are both white and male. 

Sometimes, the disparity comes down to a lack of cohesive strategy or a feeble effort on the part of leadership. Diversity efforts might be counter to a company’s history or disconnected from its mission. Regardless of why DEI efforts are floundering, there are two things any company should be focusing on: changing the culture and improving skill sets.

Explore DE&I case study from Walmart

The value of cultural immersion training: 

Do people give and receive feedback with grace within your organization’s culture? Do they listen and share? Are all voices heard?

One of the factors that make diversity and inclusion challenging to change is that discriminatory behavior can be subtle. Microaggressions are so-named because they may seem like small slip-ups or innocuous moments — but tone of voice, non-verbal gestures, and subtle language are damaging over time.

For everyone to feel comfortable coming to work as their authentic selves, a company’s culture has to be inherently inclusive, which means that people understand exactly how it’s appropriate to behave. Culture comes from policies and the example set by leadership, but it’s also about how individual behaviors add up in an organization, which is why skills development is extremely important to increasing diversity and inclusion. 

What skillsets matter

There are two ways to discuss skillsets regarding increasing diversity and inclusion.

  • The first is to improve the skill sets of female and minority candidates to set them up for success. This is where the word “equity” comes into the equation. 
  • The second is to increase the soft skills of the entire workforce to be more inclusive and empathetic toward all people.

The most effective diversity training methods are not slide decks, rule books, or role-playing games. True learning in the realm of diversity and inclusion requires learners to step into the shoes of others to experience life at work from their point of view and identify behavior in themselves and their team members that could be problematic. For this reason, experiential learning methods, including virtual reality (VR), are the most effective employee upskilling tools.

VR training can change how people behave and react when biased or even flagrantly discriminatory situations arise and help them think through how to make decisions in more inclusive ways so that, in the moment, better reactions become ingrained and automatic.

Experiential learning’s place in increasing diversity

The ability to practice is essential in learning — whether it’s physical reps in an athletic environment, mental reps in an academic or professional environment, or, in the case of soft skills, emotional reps. VR is beneficial in this way because training modules can be repeated again and again. 

Through a VR headset, learners can gain valuable soft skills such as empathy, awareness, and heightened communication. With a VR module, learners can practice difficult conversations and finetune their reactions to social cues and events in order to gain a higher caliber of emotional intelligence around diversity issues in the workplace. 

Immersive Learning —  VR combined with advanced learning theory — enables people to learn within the same (virtual) environment where they will be expected to employ their skills. This method imbues a sense of presence, ensuring that learners feel like they are making decisions in a recognizable space and giving the brain an opportunity to connect neurons

The VR format also enables organizations to measure how well people are learning within the immersive environment by gathering particular kinds of data and analytics, thus elevating the ability to glean insights into people’s behavior.

Countering diversity fatigue

Unlearning behavior can be even harder than learning a new behavior, which is a barrier to building an inclusive culture. In addition, DEI training can be uncomfortable and emotional — and can involve trial and error. 

Immersive Learning creates a safe space for learners to make mistakes and correct them, with practice and repetition, providing a valuable opportunity for self-reflection as well because learners can play back their reactions and behaviors to see for themselves where they need to improve. 

For DEI training to be effective and for diversity efforts to make a real impact, you have to meet your learners where they are — and offer them more. Immersive Learning is a powerful way to connect the dots. 
To delve deeper into this subject, view the short on-demand webinar Fostering a more inclusive workplace with Immersive Learning or download the free ebook Creating inclusive workplaces with Immersive Learning.

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