Equality in learning and development.

Learning & Development (L&D) practices significantly impact employees’ personal and professional development. With a workforce that is becoming more diverse, an inclusive approach to learning is critical. It helps you provide equal opportunities for all employees to achieve their desired learning outcomes.

Let’s explore how your organization can guarantee:

  1. Equal opportunities to participate.
  2. Inclusive learning programs.
  3. Diverse and Inclusive L&D teams.

Action 1: Equal opportunities to participate.

  • Initiate & decide.

Who in your organization decides who has access to a specific training? Is it HR, L&D, or managers, or should employees take the initiative?  

Each option results from different philosophies and has pitfalls regarding equal opportunities to participate.

Pitfall 1.

Employees follow a specific career path and only have access to training linked to that path. HR provides access to mandatory training. As a result, employees feel limited in their learning experiences, and their individual learning needs are unmet.

To avoid this pitfall:

  • Follow-up individual training needs. Let HR/L&D collaborate with people managers or team leaders to investigate if additional learning support is needed.
  • Allow everyone to follow additional training unlinked to their career path. That can benefit people doubting the chosen course or looking to expand their skills.

Pitfall 2.

Managers must decide who has access to training. They either fail to identify their team members’ training needs, don’t encourage training for some, or provide more opportunities to employees identified as “high potentials” or “top talents.”

To avoid this pitfall:

  • Train managers to identify individual learning needs. That means starting conversations on career goals and guiding employees to reflect on their skills.
  • Ask managers to motivate why certain team members are not attending training. It is easy to focus on those willing to learn but much more interesting to ask about employees that stay in the background. Why are they not attending training? Are there any barriers that prevent them from learning?
  • Review these labels regularly if your organization works with “high potential” or “top talent” labels. Favoritism or labels given early on can be blind spots for managers. The result is privilege through access to special training.

Pitfall 3.

Specific organizations consciously leave the initiative to attend training up to the employee. The most vocal employees can lobby best to attend (prestigious) training and develop faster. Others do not manage to identify their own training needs or cannot point out which available training is best for them.

To avoid this pitfall:

  • Make training and learning opportunities a mandatory topic during performance reviews and feedback moments. Attending training is discussed, and employees receive guidance in identifying their learning needs. 
  • Give each employee a set learning budget. That prevents some employees from lobbying for expensive external training.
  • Provide a clear overview of all available training. If necessary, let HR or L&D organize sessions regularly to present the range of training and explain the enrollment process.
  • Checklist requirements to access training.

Taking the initiative and deciding on participation is only one barrier to accessing training. Check for other obstacles that have an impact.

What are the requirements to access training?

  • Are they linked to a chosen career path?
  • Do part-time work schedules impact access?
  • Does training happen at an accessible location?
  • Does the employee have dedicated learning time, or can the workload be decreased for the duration of the training?
  • Does the training require at-home preparation or studying?
  • Check for barriers to full participation.

Having access to training is one thing. However, ensuring equal participation and engagement during the training is entirely different.

To create a good learning experience for all participants, you need to develop psychological safety: “Being able to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.”

Make sure no one feels unsafe or intimidated in a way that stops them from participating and benefitting from the training 100%.

To create psychological safety:

  • Provide information about the group, the setting, the learning style, timing, and content so everyone can prepare and not walk into an unknown situation.
  • Welcome learners friendly and instrumentally and introduce everyone to each other.
  • Set the tone by explaining this is a safe space for learning. Participants will feel free and comfortable to share experiences, talk about challenges and feel empowered to partake actively in exercises.
  • Be careful when singling out participants to answer a question or discuss something plenary. Not everyone is equally vocal and comfortable in doing so. Consider breakout or small groups for a comfortable and safe sharing experience. 

Action 2: Inclusive learning programs.

Explore the target audience of your learning programs.

It is unlikely to be a homogenous group of learners. Every individual has unique learning preferences. Make sure everyone gets the most out of your L&D program by reviewing training content, learning materials, learning methods, and delivery from an inclusive point of view. 

  • Training content.
  1. Check if your content is offensive to minority groups, insensitive about social or historical events, or triggers negative experiences like sexual harassment.
  2. When using references, cases, or examples, be mindful of the differences between learners. Either make the references universal and relevant for all or provide a range of examples to accommodate different experiences and points of view.
  3. Keep content up to date. Circumstances in society and at work change constantly. Ensure the content reflects and responds positively and constructively to events and current topics.
  • Learning materials.
  • Check the readability of the text.
    • Use high-contrast text and background colors that can be read and interpreted by color-blind learners.
    • Choose easily readable fonts, specifically for dyslectic learners.
    • Adjust font size for learners with visual impairments.
    • Provide all content in digital format, readable by screen-reading software.
    • Provide summaries with important messages of long texts.
  • Check your language.
    • Limit the use of jargon. If necessary, take the time to explain the meaning.
    • Avoid complex vocabulary, especially if you are not speaking the learner’s first language.
    • Use inclusive language.
    • Provide translations of the content in the learners’ first language.
  • Check your visuals.
    • Show diversity. Accurately represent the organization or diversity in society.
    • Avoid stereotypical images.
    • Use content (such as images or videos) created by underrepresented groups.
  • Learning method & delivery.
  • Create an inclusive set-up for all learners.
    • Check if virtual, face-to-face or hybrid delivery works best.
    • Consider time zones.
    • Check if your location is easy to travel to and the building and room accessible and comfortable to all.
    • Check if group size works well for introverts or those with high sensitivity.
    • Check if your course build-up has variety and plenty of breaks to keep concentration and engagement levels high.
    • Check exercises for physical elements. Prepare alternatives for those who cannot participate.
  • Use the Flipped Classroom. Provide the content before the training. Learners can go through it, digest it at their own pace and reflect on it in advance. They will feel more prepared to share their thoughts in a group setting.
  • Select the right instructors. Inclusively delivering content is a challenge. Therefore, facilitators should know how certain content and messaging are best delivered. In addition, they need skills to identify the needs of a diverse group of learners and to approach and challenge individual learners in a respectful and empathic way.

Monitor and review training programs regularly to check their effectiveness in engaging your target audience.

Action 3. Diverse & inclusive L&D teams

We have already established that homogenous groups of learners are an illusion. Learning is no one-size-fits-all process. You need diversity of thought in your L&D team to design inclusive learning experiences.

Why do you need diverse L&D teams?

  • They can better connect with the diverse group of learners they are supporting.
  • They know which sensitivities to address and which stereotypes to avoid, keeping learners engaged when creating content.
  • They are more likely to include DEI topics and inclusive learning methods in every training, even if the content is not directly related to DEI.
  • Their differences result in a more extensive network and more eye for diversity in external partners and facilitators—an added value for learners.

Overall, they will help learners feel respected, involved, and able to bring their authentic selves to training.

Become a DEI expert.

The Virtual Training Team (2022). Diversity and Inclusion in Learning & Development. E-book.