Practice What You Preach

7 reasons why sensitivity training should be a priority for your business

By Ebony Chappel

chocolate-sodaThis Instagram meme, featuring a man in blackface, resulted in unwelcome attention for Papa Roux restaurant.

Unconventional methods of promoting diversity fell way short of their intended target earlier this year as Park Tudor School in Indianapolis came under fire for its Black History Month menu consisting of fried chicken and collard greens.

Popular Indianapolis eatery Papa Roux received quite a bit of backlash a month later for an Instagram post depicting a white man dressed in blackface promoting the restaurant’s new chocolate soda.

Sensitivity training, also known as diversity or inclusion training, for some, is one of the most uncomfortable mandatory training sessions to endure as a result of an employer’s attempt to remain compliant with federal standards regarding discrimination. Images of long drawn-out lectures on the do’s and don’ts of workplace interactions – or worse, a cringe-worthy attempt at lightening things up a la Michael Scott, of NBC’s hit comedy series “The Office,” and his infamous Diversity Day imitation of an n-word-laden Chris Rock routine – often come to mind.

Although most businesses offer some sort of sensitivity training, it often is an informal and rushed part of the employment process.
LaJuana Warren, a certified diversity practitioner and owner of diversity consulting firm Tapestry Solutions, said that during her 20 years in corporate America as an employee of Xerox, sensitivity training was the norm. When she left, she realized those values were not the same elsewhere.

“The way to make the training the most effective is to come from the top down. It has to be something that management endorses and sees as important,” she said. “People who really get it know that it makes their company better.”

Here are seven reasons your company still should require and offer sensitivity training:

1. Promotes Tolerance:
Effective inclusion-based training helps employees learn to appreciate one another’s differences through education and understanding.

2. Enhances global presence:
In our growing worldwide economy, it is essential companies prepare their employees for interacting across different cultural barriers. Committing a social faux pas out of sheer ignorance could seriously damage a potentially lucrative client relationship.

3. Prevents lawsuits:
Fully equipped human resources managers may save your company tons of dollars and hours by making it a point to brief all employees on the organization’s standards when it comes to discrimination.

4. Increases teamwork:
When employees feel included and accepted, it can positively affect their morale and productivity. Also, providing a safe haven for employees may reduce the number of harassment complaints.

5. Boosts the bottom line:
Recently, companies like Barilla pasta have come under fire due to their CEO’s remarks against same sex marriage. In an Italian radio interview he shared that his brand would never feature homosexual couples and anyone who opposed his point of view could just buy different pasta. According to Nielsen, same-sex-partnered households make up 16 percent more shopping trips than heterosexual households, and average annual spending on consumer-packaged goods is 25 percent higher than the average U.S. household. Barilla has since offered an apology and created an advisory board specifically focused on inclusion efforts.

6. Reduces turnover:
According to the Center for American Progress, businesses that fail to encourage inclusiveness see higher turnover rates than businesses that value a diverse workforce. The high turnover rate has a direct effect on profit as the failure to retain qualified employees results in preventable labor-related costs.

7. Fuels innovation:
A report done by the Deloitte Review said retailers who deliberately attract a diverse workforce and directly involve them in key decision-making scenarios benefit as “diverse employees provide access to better consumer insights because they understand the cultural nuances firsthand.” The report went on to say companies may experience increased shopper loyalty as a result.