Date: July 11, 2023

Diversity training: Everyone’s investing—but is it really working? 

Everyone’s talking about DEI being good for productivity, company culture, and the bottom line. But when companies invest in DEI training today, are they really making a difference or are they missing an opportunity to align DEI with business strategy? 

Today, DEI has become big business. In a report by management consulting firm McKinsey, research showed that organizations that are top-rated for diversity are 15-35% more likely to exceed industry medians for financial returns. For US companies aggressively leaning into diversity, earnings rose 0.8% for every for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity within leadership ranks. But even with these promising metrics, the current gap between training and outcomes is undeniable. 

No bang for the diversity buck?

When it comes to DEI, traditional solutions haven’t been enough to address the evolving need, as they often aren’t designed to realistically challenge today’s learners. Standard 30-minute training modules simply aren’t sufficient to undo generations of societal conditioning, and “DEI fatigue” has set in, causing learners to grow apathetic about most diversity and inclusion training. 

We’ve found that the scope of most training doesn’t push beyond the goal of awareness. In fact, it’s been demonstrated that DEI learning modules that simply “raise awareness” of an issue can lead to learners feeling defensive and closed off to change. 

According to the Harvard Kennedy School of Business, US corporations are spending $8B annually on DEI training—without improving diversity. So, with all that spend and no results, what have we learned?  

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s assessment of evidence on unconscious bias training (UBT) found that:  

  • UBT is effective for awareness raising when using an Implicit Association Test2 (IAT) followed by a debrief, or more advanced training designs such as interactive workshops or longer-term programs to reflectively reduce biases 
  • UBT interventions are not generally designed to reduce explicit bias and those that do aim to do so have yielded mixed results or very small effects 
  • Using the IAT and educating participants on unconscious bias theory is likely to increase awareness of and reduce implicit bias 
  • The evidence for UBT’s ability effectively to change behavior is limited; most of the evidence reviewed did not use valid measures of behavior change 

The ultimate takeaway? The Commission’s assessment determined that UBT can be effective for reducing implicit bias, but there is no evidence that it can eliminate it. 

While there are many off-the-shelf options on the market, studies show that isolated DEI learning modules in things like unconscious bias not only don’t show results--they can also backfire. Offering leadership-driven integrated solutions has proven to be the most effective way to bring about change throughout an entire organization--especially when it comes to DEI.  

It’s incredibly difficult to shift longstanding mindsets with one-size fits-all training. With a customized approach that tackles the two main issues that influence the outcomes of DEI training, unconscious bias and impact measurement, we can significantly improve results.  

Challenge #1 Unconscious bias 

One of the biggest hurdles impacting the success of DEI training is unconscious bias. Driving change is challenging at the best of times, but when key mindsets have been in place for decades, unraveling those deeply entrenched behaviors requires a strategic approach. 

The terms unconscious bias and microaggression are bandied about online and in the media on a daily basis, but do we truly understand their meaning? 

Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) is commonly defined as a collection of social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. 

Microaggressions (sometimes called exclusionary behaviors) are everyday comments or actions that subtly—and often unconsciously or unintentionally--express a bias toward historically marginalized groups. 

Taken together, what does this mean? Simply stated, unconscious bias drives microaggressions; therefore, we must start at the source. But it’s not so easy. Unconscious biases are informed by a person’s unique background, culture, and life experience. To help people overcome unconscious bias, they must not only be aware of and accept its presence to understand it, they also need tools to know how to repair the way it impacts their thoughts and actions. 

But what happens if we can’t change long-term behavior? Is it still possible to help people respond with empathy? Absolutely. One way we can accomplish this is to facilitate the experience of ‘walking a mile in someone’s shoes’ in the safe setting of a training scenario. By giving a person first-hand experience with prejudice, they are more likely to see how their own unconscious bias impacts friends, family, coworkers--and the community at large. 

Challenge #2: Measuring impact 

Do the organizations offering DEI training understand how to measure the impact—or are they doing it at all? This last, often unfinished step in the training process can be challenging, and many feel that measuring the results of DEI training is like trying to measure squishy concepts like culture or creativity, but it can be done.  

Determining the effectiveness of DEI training is an ongoing process, utilizing qualitative measurement, benchmarking, and long-term tracking. It can be demonstrated by looking at several key metrics, including: 

  • Employee retention/turnover 
  • Employee demographics 
  • Candidate demographics 
  • Employee promotion rates 
  • Diversity in leadership positions 
  • HR incident reports  

By accurately measuring the impact of DEI training, companies can better understand and act on diversity challenges, holding management and other key roles responsible for driving change, and implementing strategic programs and policies to reduce inequity. 

The DEI training solution: More than just an investment

DEI is a moral and ethical imperative, revealing the need to foster belonging, advance just practices, and build a healthy workplace culture. This is what’s driving higher levels of investment in DEI than ever before. 

At NIIT, we ground our solutions in a three-tiered experiential framework of Awareness-Action-Accountability. Within that framework, we apply our proprietary “learn-by-doing” methodology that’s proven to deliver real results. We also explicitly embed our DEI solutions with “Psychological Safety Plus,” which mitigates defensiveness or shame as learners enter the awareness phase, instead being encouraged to move forward to action and accountability. This enables our DEI learning experiences to deliver strategic, sustained change by empowering learners with a sense of agency and the ability to make a tangible difference in their work culture. 

DEI learning solutions for today and tomorrow 

NIIT DEI learning solutions embrace the spectrum of all dimensions of DEI, from gender and race to sexuality, accessibility, and beyond. Some examples of work we’ve created in this space include: 

  • Principles of DEI, which uses a series of authentic stories to help learners build an understanding of the ways conscious acts of inclusion lead to better outcomes 
  • Immersive Empathy Training, offering coaching approaches for high-stakes interpersonal communication 
  • Bystander Intervention that utilizes a scenario-based approach to help learners understand how and when to intervene 
  • Inclusion Circle Training, teaching learners how to create environments of psychological safety that eliminate microaggressions 
  • Anti-harassment Training, which enables learners to experience a variety of sexual harassment situations from both the view of the aggressor and the harassed 

Our holistic view of DEI solutions incorporates leadership and DEI “ambassadors” at every opportunity. NIIT’s bespoke, scenario-based, immersive solutions help people learn in highly relevant and authentic context, tackling DEI from the top down, as it relates to each unique organization. The goal? Realizing long-term, sustainable behavior shifts. 

Ready to create lasting change with DEI? 

Custom solutions are the key to success in DEI. At NIIT, we’ll meet you wherever you are on your DEI journey, creating custom solutions that fit your unique culture and strategic DEI goals. We’re committed to creating transformational change in DEI. If you’re looking for innovative learning solutions for DEI, reach out to us at to learn more about DEI training solutions that work.