Diversity Dimensions: Needs assessment helps ensure effective diversity training

Publication Date: 7/2004

Source: SO01 Public Relations Tactics
Product Code: 6C-070440
Organization/Author/Firm: Rochelle L. Ford Ph. D. APR
Specialization(s): Multicultural - Diversity
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When establishing a diversity program, many managers conclude that diversity training is needed. More than 1,000 firms offer such programs costing organizations from nothing to $100,000.

However, without consideration, your training session may do more damage than good.

This column suggests how to establish a diversity-training program that will most benefit your organization.

Begin by assessing organizational, operational and personal needs.

Organizational needs include the broad goals of the organization. Operational needs pertain to the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for the organization to function. At the personal level, you examine what employees need to perform their tasks well.

Organizations should also consider completing a cultural audit to determine a baseline for the organization's approach to diversity and to reveal particular issues that need to be addressed in diversity training.

As a result of this three-level needs assessment, you should be able to determine:

Why you want to begin a diversity training program

Most organizations begin diversity training because of negative pressure, research and development, or a desire to prevent problems. Negative pressures may stem from lawsuits, activist groups or internal conflicts. Research and development findings often demonstrate that diversity programming is a business imperative.

What are the potential participants' attitudes toward diversity and how strongly they hold those attitudes

Loriann Roberson, Carol T. Kulik and Molly B. Pepper of the Department of Management at Arizona State University addressed this question in the Journal of Organizational Behavior (volume 22, issue eight, John Wiley & Sons). The authors explain that asking potential participants how concerned they are about diversity and how important diversity is to their self-perception will help organizations determine the shape and approach of a diversity training session.

How the organization defines diversity and the one most appropriate definition for the training outcomes

Roberson, Kulik and Pepper also explain that broad definitions of diversity can make training more palatable to participants, reducing potential backlash toward training. At the same time, they caution that broad definitions may reduce the immediate application of skills by many participants after the training. They suggest using a narrow definition of diversity when implementing skills-oriented diversity training.

Whether the training groups should be homogeneous or heterogeneous

Diversity studies have linked heterogeneous groups to increases in the quality of discussions, reductions in tokenism, and increased sharing about differences and similarities. Homogeneous training groups often create safe zones for candid discussion and facilitate learning about self-identity. Either approach may be beneficial, depending on whether your goals are to increase awareness or change behavior or both and how much diversity training participants have already completed.

By answering these basic questions through a needs assessment, a tailored training session can be created that will be more effective and better received than a generic model.

Rochelle L. Ford, Ph.D., APR, is an assistant professor at Howard University. E-mail: rocFord@howard.edu.