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How Inclusive Is Your Training Program?

More than 17 million people have taken the Harvard Implicit Bias test to explore their hidden biases on a variety of diversity dimensions such as sexual preferences, To examine how to be more inclusive we first must understand our biases. Bias is any thought or action, intended or unintended, that provides someone an unfair advantage or disadvantage. Bias can be positive or negative. There are several areas where biases affect the degree of inclusiveness in the T&D process.

Instructor and participant engagement

You walk into a training room. Are you attracted to those you already know? That would be a normal response. To overcome this bias, consciously great each person with the same enthusiasm and interest.

We usually like to have learners who participate, volunteer, and ask thoughtful questions. We are drawn to these participants and we have a habit of looking in their direction when asking a question and ignoring those who do not appear to be participating. We may unconsciously resent students who do not participate because we assume they are not interested in what we are teaching or are evaluating us negatively. However, a person’s degree of participation can be due to the culture of the education system in which the participant was raised. In much of Asia, learning is by rote memory, and students are expected to obediently listen and take notes on the subject matter. The idea of raising questions or volunteering ideas is unwelcome and would be considered disrespectful and insubordinate. As instructors we need to understand how cultural backgrounds affect the student–instructor relationship.

It is important to understand the role of micro-inequities in the learning environment if we want to promote inclusion. Micro-inequities are barely noticeable, subconscious expressions of bias against someone based on numerous factors, such as race, gender, and accent. We are not even aware of the bias or its expression. Little acts of disrespect, such as failing to respond to a student, mistakenly mispronouncing a student’s name or not using their name for fear of mispronouncing it, or not inviting some participants to join you for lunch are examples of micro-inequities that we may not be conscious of. Other factors can be tone of voice, body language, and looking down when someone is speaking.

Selection of candidates


Who gets to be trained? Here is where systemic processes may limit access to training based on who is qualified to register for a particular course, such as leadership skills, and who gets nominated by their managers. Affinity bias is when you prefer or ignore people based on the degree to which they share your characteristics. A manager may enjoy the same hobby, have gone to the same university, or belong to the same church as the person selected for a developmental program. The manager is simply selecting someone based on their personal knowledge and experience with them. The problem is that there are many more people being excluded from consideration due to lack of personal experience with a broader cohort of potential candidates.

To reduce biases in the selection of individuals for high-potential training programs, our company has managers list the top seven candidates and then identify which ones they have the most and least in common with. We then coach the managers on how these commonalities may affect their judgement. Other recommendations to enhance inclusivity are to create mentoring programs that promote diversity or to involve leaders in sponsoring employee resource groups. These have been used to enhance the opportunities of those who otherwise were in the blind spot of those selecting candidates for developmental programs. Another recommendation is to provide unconscious bias training focusing specifically on the selections process so those who make critical appointments possess the skills to make decisions that will promote inclusion.

Creating an inclusive learning environment

In addition to the content we teach, we must understand that our attendees come into our programs with their own biases. As instructors, we need to be vigilant about eliminating unconscious bias in our learning environments. We need to be sure to assign tasks fairly (such as taking notes, writing ideas on flipcharts, or leading discussions) and ensure that students’ ideas are not cut off by other students. Observe if learners open their laptops to check emails when those least like themselves are speaking. Take actions that will include everyone in our programs to participate.

Organizations that are more inclusive are more profitable, have much higher engagement scores, and have greater retention rates. How can we in T&D take specific actions to create a more inclusive organization and learning process? Please submit any best practices, critical incidents and cases to for inclusion in future columns or post a note in the Comments section below.

© 2016 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Neal Goodman is an internationally recognized authority on globalization, global mindset development, and cultural competence for global corporations. His programs have helped hundreds of thousands of corporate executives to be more effective in international settings by learning how to apply a global mindset. Global Dynamics, the company he co-founded in 1983, designs, organizes, and implements programs that support global mindset development, cultural competence, global team building, global leadership, virtual workforce effectiveness, and diversity and inclusion in leading Fortune 500 companies that wish to succeed in the global arena. As CEO of GDI, he leads a team of more than 400 innovative, cross-cultural experts from around the globe to create in-person, blended, and web-based solutions for his clients.
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