The Subtle (Or Not) Connection Between DEI And Learning And Development

The Subtle (Or Not) Connection Between DEI And Learning And Development
Summary: This article explores the connections and intersections that exist between DEI and L&D in most organizations, and offers tips on how to utilize them to create more effective learning experiences.

The Intersection Of DEI And L&D

Learning and Development (L&D) developers often collaborate with HR professionals and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) teams, but they are separate functions in most companies. In some organizations, L&D falls under the HR umbrella, or doesn't even exist. As a result, L&D and DEI aren't inherently connected and expected to intertwine. Instead, HR departments are at the forefront of driving diversity and promoting inclusive and equitable values. Larger organizations might have separate DEI teams, but they're still not directly linked to L&D. Since recruiters and hiring managers are responsible for attracting, recruiting, and retaining top talents, they're typically in charge of onboarding and training specifics.

On the other hand, L&D is rarely the first thing that comes up when talking about DEI. Not many executives expect L&D developers and professionals to be trailblazers in advocating diverse values and ingraining inclusion and equity into their function. But DEI should interconnect with everything that happens in the workplace instead of being turned into initiatives operating in silos. Every department can and should contribute to diversity and have its own spin on how to make it happen. Hence, L&D has just as much responsibility and right to establish diverse and inclusive practices and policies within their function. Here's how L&D and DEI intersect and why the former should prioritize inclusive values.

The Intersection Of DEI And L&D

Although every company has a unique approach to DEI, they often miss the opportunity to use their learning programs to impact company culture, celebrate differences, and nurture novel ways of thinking. But DEI and L&D could share invaluable data and insights, creating an opportunity for a more tight-knit collaboration in the future. Instructional Designers have much more contact with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), as they help them compile, evaluate, and structure learning content.

However, it takes more to tackle DEI and get it right, as these topics are less openly talked about and need in-depth understanding, empathy, research, compassion for every human, and open-mindedness. But that isn't to say that DEI and L&D are worlds apart and can't come together. As learning architects, Instructional Designers aim to create an engaging educational experience and reach a specific outcome.

The objective is to augment one's skillset, capabilities, or knowledge, or enhance their attitude. Moreover, Instructional Designers strive to address the needs and goals of both parties, the learners and the organization. Thanks to this, they shape more than just the learning content. L&D indirectly influences workplace culture, helps drive strategic objectives, establishes and alters behaviors, and fosters positive mindsets. This makes its role pivotal in supporting employees, the business, customers, and stakeholders, as well as promoting efficient training outcomes and inclusive practices.

Learning And Diversity Continuously Intertwine

Employees must also understand the company's mission, vision, and values, and undergo onboarding before succeeding in their roles. Hence, Learning and Development are among their first touchpoints, as workers must learn about the company culture, their team, and expectations. Companies must employ L&D and DEI from the get-go, to establish a diverse and equitable workplace and teach new employees these values and behaviors.

Instructional Designers and L&D departments can align a company's overall objectives with the learners' goals and the learning solution. When aligning these targets, they must consider how DEI objectives match the high-level organizational objectives. L&D departments must also ensure that the learning solutions support the learners' future goals and professional aspirations. But if not every employee has the same accessibility level to these programs, it hinders inclusion. That is another telltale sign that L&D and DEI continuously intertwine—training and learning programs must be inclusive and equitable to provide everyone with the same opportunities, knowledge, and skills. Otherwise, a company risks creating a hostile environment, where only high-performing employees can access career advancement, upskilling, reskilling, and chances to expand their capabilities. This exclusion would also manifest in lower productivityretention, and engagement.

Finally, DEI helps Instructional Designers and L&D professionals understand the full scope of diversity, and that it doesn't only encompass what's visible at first glance. Instead, it also includes invisible conditions, struggles, and challenges. For example, many L&D programs fail to accommodate the needs, strengths, weaknesses, and potential of employees with neurodiverse characteristics. Since it's invisible, and people with neurodiverse characteristics tend to hide it, training and learning programs are often ineffective and not adjusted to include this group of employees.

Neurodiversity is still a relatively new term in the L&D landscape. Many training developers are unaware that it represents normal differences in how people think and react to the world, instead of a disability. Because of this, neurodiverse employees often feel that L&D isn't made to fit and address their unique strengths and challenges. This leads to companies failing to nurture and develop all their talents equally and provide adequate learning techniques, tools, methods, and options.

How L&D Professionals, DEI Teams, And HR Can Collaborate To Drive Diverse Values Through Learning

Here's how L&D departments, DEI teams, and HR can reinforce diversity and leverage learning programs to promote inclusive values.

1. Make Training And Learning Opportunities Accessible To Everyone

The first point of ingraining DEI into L&D is making sure that everyone has equal access to career progress, learning opportunities, upskilling, and reskilling. HR professionals often focus on the highest-performing employees, overlooking junior members and those struggling to adapt to their job roles or achieve impressive results. But if they strive for well-rounded, genuinely equitable and inclusive training, they must give everyone the same attention and chances. New workers should have the same right to participate in learning programs as those in managerial positions.

Moreover, older employees shouldn't be neglected and pushed aside, even if they're approaching retirement age. Inclusion can't be selective, nor corrupted by any favoritism. HR, L&D, and DEI teams should continuously work on preventing and eliminating the barriers that stop people from acquiring new skills and knowledge, or progressing in their careers. This includes implementing up-to-date mechanisms and initiatives that ensure no one is left out or unable to participate in training and learning programs.

2. Ensure L&D Content Encompasses All Groups Of People

A team can't really give its best and produce stellar results if even one member doesn't receive adequate training that suits their skills, strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities. This includes employees who experience, learn, or interact with the world and others differently. An effective L&D program is only effective if it accommodates different learning styles, paces, challenges, preferences, and possibilities. Hence, it must encompass the neurodiverse workforce and remove the barriers they often encounter at the workplace. But that doesn't necessarily mean creating separate training for each person. Instead, every worker should have an equal number of choices concerning how they want to learn and adopt new knowledge and abilities.

3. Embed DEI Into Organizational And L&D Structure

Both DEI and the organization will thrive if the former is a part of the organizational and L&D structure. Instructional Designers, L&D professionals, and DEI teams can work together to ensure content diversity, include different groups of learners, and provide successful learning outcomes for everyone. DEI should also have a role in recruitment initiatives, the hiring process, performance evaluations and reviews, succession planning, leadership development, and employee engagement. Employees should receive effective DEI training and learn about its values, but also have the necessary tools and abilities to carry it out, address biases, and foster accountability.

4. Ensure That Learning About DEI Includes The C-Suite

Accessible and equal training, and learning about DEI, should encompass the whole organization, including the executives and managers. This is vital for promoting diverse values and fostering an inclusive workplace where everyone can learn, improve, and grow. The organizational top should understand what diversity means, who it includes, and how L&D can help maintain an inclusive culture and open-mindedness. Thus, leaders from different groups and departments can share unique insights and experiences regarding the learning initiatives, ensuring that their communities' thoughts, feelings, and challenges are taken into account.

5. Codevelop An Inclusive Culture Training

L&D, HR, and DEI teams can collaborate on codeveloping an inclusive culture and values by creating various training opportunities together. Each party has specific subject-matter expertise that can help make the content engaging, varied, effective, and suitable for different groups. This initiative should encompass the whole workforce, including the organizational top, as it helps make a lasting change and bring these functions closer. Besides, these teams and departments can provide each other with guidance on appropriate terminology, approach, and methods to accommodate the needs of every employee.

L&D and DEI are inherently interconnected and can provide better learning solutions and create more efficient, diverse initiatives when uniting their knowledge, skills, and expertise. Each function plays a significant role in creating a more inclusive workplace that doesn't overlook anyone's needs and makes sure no one faces challenges that impede their growth. By working together, they develop better learning content and reinforce its flexibility, allowing employees to expand their knowledge and adopt skills that help them fulfill their unique potential.

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