How to Choose the Best DEI Certification Program: A Comprehensive Guide

BY -

Guest Author

September 7, 2020

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly important in every organisation. There is a tidal shift societally, many years in the making, which has created an environment where people expect representation and aren’t afraid to speak up when it’s lacking. 

The current climate may have you paying extra close attention to diversity and inclusion in your workplace. There are many D&I certification programmes out there which aim to increase awareness and create a working environment that is open, inclusive and respectful of differences. How should you go about choosing the best programme for your organisation’s needs?

What is diversity and inclusion? 

First, it’s important to have a firm understanding of what is meant by the two terms diversity and inclusion. Diversity refers to the people who make up your workforce. For a truly diverse workplace, your employees should come from various walks of life and backgrounds. There should be a strong mix across gender, age, race, religion, nationality, sexuality and those with disabilities. 

Inclusion is rooted in the culture of the company and the attitudes of the staff within it. It’s not enough to have a diverse workforce if time is not taken to understand their experiences. A truly inclusive company will make every employee, regardless of their gender, race or sexuality feel accepted, understood and appreciated.

Inclusion also needs to be thought of in the policies and practices of the company. Does everyone have an equal opportunity to learn and progress? Are there certain practices which elevate some above others and how can these be changed to ensure that opportunities are equal across the board? 

Understanding this difference is vital. It’s not enough for your company to be diverse if you are not catering to the various needs of your employees, or if people are not made to feel as if they belong due to their treatment and career progression path. In short, diversity is about the demographics of the workforce, and inclusion is about the company culture that allows diversity to thrive. 

What does D&I training involve? 

D&I training ensures employees understand the company’s values around D&I. A good programme will help to highlight and challenge attitudes some may have, as well as beliefs and behaviours which work against inclusivity. It should have an impact on behaviours and attitudes, ultimately widening people’s perspectives and knowledge base, resulting in a more inclusive environment. 

It raises awareness of the issues, discusses them, and presents some solutions and ways of working to promote inclusion rather than isolation. It makes employees think of things they may never have considered, and behaviours they may never have questioned as they did not know their impact on colleagues. It can also provide employees the tools and courage to have difficult conversations and call out behaviours or systems which work against diversity and inclusion.

Truly successful programmes must focus on various elements that make up a successfully inclusive space. Often, a big part of what D&I training involves is the challenging of unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is where attitudes which are not checked or acknowledged as detrimental lead to behaviours and actions that have a negative impact upon diversity and inclusion. 

This unconscious bias is particularly sinister as people don’t realise the wide reaching impact these unchecked assumptions and decisions have on D&I, but they have a major impact on hiring and career progression. D&I training challenges unconscious biases that may be present in hiring practices, and throughout the organisation when it comes to opportunities, promotions and pay rises. 

It draws attention to how these unconscious biases may manifest, and explores ways to remove the possibility of these impacting diversity. For example, in many companies it is now common practice to deploy blind hiring where names and any identifying personal or sensitive information are left out of the application. This removes the inevitable reliance on stereotypes or lived experience getting in the way of impartially selecting the best candidates to take through to the interview stage. 

These programmes often ask participants to take part in role plays that employ real life scenarios. For example, there could be a scenario where a woman is asking for a pay rise after having not received one despite being at the company for a few years, or a scenario in which a woman is being mistreated after returning from maternity leave. In doing these, and experiencing what it may be like on both sides of the table, for employer and employee, the participants gain knowledge and practice empathy, coming to realise what it may feel like for certain people when they are targeted or sidelined because of their diversity.

D&I programmes may offer suggested reading materials to get to the heart of the issues holding companies back. The programmes build knowledge around theories and real experiences in the workplace. This could vary from looking at common microaggressions that people of colour experience from their colleagues and managers, to information on best practice and vocabulary when talking about disabilities and accessibility issues. 

One of the major strengths of the programmes is that this knowledge is supported and cemented by the space participants have to discuss and implement these learnings through role play and conversations. A successful facilitator will make it a safe space free of judgement, where people can confront and admit to past mistakes and look for ways to move forward and learn.

When UCAR set up their own D&I programme, they included a session on in-depth bystander intervention training. This went beyond just focusing on existent biases, and equipped the participants with the ability to step in when they witness instances of bias and discrimination in practice. By playing out a real life scenario, showing them various ways to intervene, then having them come up with their own strategy and act it out in front of the group, it was a powerful way of giving them the skillset to speak up in future circumstances. This focus on conflict resolution when there has been some form of breach or discrimination is an extremely beneficial takeaway for participants, and a very helpful addition to the content of a D&I programme.

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After completing the training, employees should be more aware of how to sensitively engage in conversations and interact with a broad spectrum of people, despite any differences there may be. There should be an understanding of the unconscious ways certain thoughts and actions impact upon the diversity and inclusivity of a company. And also an understanding of the ways in which they themselves can be complicit in this, and how to challenge and call out attitudes, comments, behaviours and policies which are detrimental to diversity and inclusion. 

Why is it important for business owners, hiring managers and employees to earn a D&I certification? 

Change must come from within. As much outside pressure as there may be, if change is not implemented and nurtured inside organisations, from the very top all the way down, there will be no true, long lasting shift. When the FTSE 100 have more CEOs named Steve and David than women and ethnic minority leaders combined, it cannot be denied that many companies have a major issue with diversity and inclusion. To have a solid inclusive workforce, it needs to be thought of and implemented structurally at each level, and not as a hasty add on or afterthought. In completing a certification programme it ensures it is at the forefront of everyone’s mind and something they are actively engaging with. 

A diverse working environment is becoming more important to job seekers, who want to see themselves represented in positions across the company, including in managerial and  leadership roles. This shows them that it will be possible for them to progress in the company if they choose to work there. Many companies are putting in more work in recruiting a diverse workforce, but if the company culture is not understanding and welcoming, and does not have a feeling of belonging for all employees, the retention rate will be low. Nobody wants to stay somewhere where they feel as if they are not understood, valued or listened to. 

D&I programmes are proving important in order to attract the top talent, and to keep them once they are there. They show that the company cares about D&I, and an impactful programme will ensure the environment matches up when a new employee joins, making them feel like a valued member of the team.

In addition to the social and ethical reasons behind D&I programmes, there is lots of research supporting the claim that a diverse and inclusive workspace makes for a more successful, innovative and financially profitable company. Examining Apple’s commitment and approach to D&I since Tim Cook took over as CEO demonstrates how a slow and steady build in terms of diversity saw an elevation of Apple as a social brand, whilst their finances and stock price continued to thrive. 

Fostering a good atmosphere and sustained learning toward diversity in your workplace is a smart business move. A diverse team provides a wider view point, which in turn often makes your company more relevant to a larger customer base. 

How to select the best certification course to take?

When deciding on the best certification course for yourself or your employees to take, there are a few key considerations. Firstly, assess the cost and what you are getting for that price. The costs do vary significantly, assess what your outcomes are, what your budget is and which courses align best with both. The more expensive courses will likely be more hands-on, potentially with an in-person facilitator leading the session. See if the course includes any additional resources such as reading materials, or key books for the participants to read alongside to enrich their learning and knowledge. Is there a follow up session that you can book to check in on and consolidate the learning that has taken place, and any questions or situations that have arisen since the initial workshop?

It is also important to consider the time commitment of the course. They can vary from a one hour course online, to a two day in person course, or an online course which has an hour’s training each week for a set period. You may decide to select an online training course of a few hours which attendees can do at their own convenience. This self-paced course allows them to take control of their learning, and fit it around other work commitments. Or you may decide that you want a longer in person course as you think participants would benefit from being together as a team whilst they work through these topics. A more intensive and longer course may match up with your desired outcomes.

Ultimately, you have to do some research around which certification course meets your needs. Here are a few courses to consider, and places to begin: 

In conclusion 

A strong D&I strategy is vital to any successful company in this day and age, and will have a bigger impact going forward in terms of top talent acquisition. D&I certification programmes provide a way to increase knowledge on the topic amongst your employees, challenge attitudes and unconscious biases, and impact behaviours and structural processes which act as a barrier to a diverse and inclusive environment. It also equips employees to have difficult conversations, and to speak up when discrimiantion is taking place. 

But remember, to ensure a continued inclusive workspace the work that needs to be done is ongoing way past your completion of a D&I certification programme. Once you’ve completed the D&I programme, it is an active job to continue the work it has initiated. Ensure that your D&I strategy is sustainable and well thought out. Make sure you hold yourself and the company accountable after the programme has officially ended. 

Andrew Arkley PurpleCV

Andrew Arkley is the founder of PurpleCV, one of the UK's leading CV writing providers - with over 15 years’ experience in HR and recruitment at a senior level and having conducted thousands of interviews, he knows precisely what it takes to land a job.

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