The effectiveness of diversity training has come under scrutiny in recent yearswhen in reality what needs to be scrutinized is the corporate environment in which the training is being implemented.
It’s fair to say that training itself is not enough to change the climate of an intercultural organization. There needs to be a systemic approach to ensure that cross-cultural communication is part of the company's main objective. This objective should involve a top downandbottom up strategy, which includes senior level commitment, as well as accountability and HR best practices.
Two Corporate Diversity Case Studies
These case studies were chosen because they provide examples of major global organizations that have embraced very different, yet equally effective, diversity training strategies.
Diversity Training at Sodexo
Sodexo is one of the leading food and facilities management services companies and one of the largest employers in the United States. It employs over 300,000 people in 76 countries, and has total yearly revenue of roughly $15 billion, $7 billion of which is earned in the United States. Cross-cultural communication is a core element of its business strategy and it has explicitly linked diversity training to profitable business growth.
Sodexo takes a hands-on approach to its diversity training programs. It recognized early on that the training provided needed to be continuous and engage employees at all levels within the organization. Its senior executives’ training programs are ongoing, with quarterly classroom experiences. Other invaluable learning takes place via community engagement and mentoring diverse employees.
Sodexo believes that its diversity training is making a positive difference. For example, one of the components of the diversity initiative is Sodexo’s mentoring program which has led to increased productivity and retention of women and minorities. In a recent study conducted to assess the effectiveness of its diversity training programs, there was an approximate return on investment (ROI) of $19 for every dollar spent.
Sodexo’s leadership in diversity has also generated new business opportunities and contributed to retention of clients. Several new contracts were awarded to Sodexo, in part, because of its leadership in diversity and inclusion.
Hewitt Associates is a $3 billion a year consulting and human resources outsourcing firm that employs over 25,000 people. What makes Hewitt such an interesting case study is not that it has been successful with its diversity training – which it has – but that it had enough insight to know its organizational culture was not ready to tackle such complex issues before launching a massive training effort. Hewitt took two years to argue the case for diversity training within its organization and align its senior level executives with the idea of change through learning.
After two years of readying the organization, senior leaders were placed in sessions with subordinate employees using theater-based education. In these sessions executives were able to gain new perspectives and see how different the Hewitt experience could be for associates from different backgrounds.
From these initial sessions a yearlong training program was developed called Cross-Cultural Learning Partners. This program again paired executives with associates who were in some way culturally different. The partners received a monthly lesson and spent two hours together each month completing their assignment. Activities included reading, watching a movie and reflecting in an attempt to assess workplace situations together.
At the end of this yearlong experiment, a test was administered which showed that the leaders had moved from a “minimization” mindset to an “acceptance” mindset. The collected data showed quantitatively that the learning had been effective.
What can and should be gleaned from these case studies is the notion that companies that are willing to take full responsibility for the curricula, in an effort to continually improve their business culture, will be the ones to implement the most effective diversity training, which will have the greatest impact on their business outcomes.