DEI Training: What It Is, What It Does, and Why Your Organization Needs It

December 20, 2022 Aaron Kinne
facilitator guides employees through diversity equity inclusion training

“Diversity training gets a bad rap sometimes,” observed equity and justice practitioner Brittany J. Harris. “DEI training is often positioned as a one-off and not effective.”

In an interview with Workhuman®, Brittany shared her belief that when discussing DEI training, it’s “more apparent than ever that organizations don’t exist within a vacuum. They are part of a much broader solution, an ecosystem. And for leaders to rise to the occasion takes capacity building, skill building, and disrupting the systems we’ve become so accustomed to.” And that includes DEI training.

In her view, the role of DEI training — sometimes called inclusion training — is an opportunity to “intersect passion, purpose, and profession” that can “embed justice into the work we’ve come to know as diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

With that as a backdrop, let’s look at some of the key elements of effective and successful DEI training — and how different types of DEI trainings can have deep and far-reaching benefits for your entire organization.

What is DEI Training?

DEI training teaches employees how to contribute to an organization that is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all workers. Diversity training tries to shed light on unconscious bias, prejudice, and inequity — especially in its most subtle and underlying forms — and bring about real, tangible change. It’s focus often includes — but is not limited to — bias on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation (A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Bringing Caste into the DEI Conversation,” explored the social dynamics of caste within companies and communities.).

The ultimate goal of effective DEI training is to create a more inclusive culture where everyone can be their true selves and be heard. An equitable workplace is a culture that is psychologically safe, and where no person’s voice is marginalized.

Craig Witney, senior digital training strategist at Workhuman, describes the company’s DEI strategy as a mission to “create, foster, and promote an inclusive work environment where our humans truly feel they can be themselves and can bring their best selves to work. Because here, humans have and will always come first.”

DEI training programs provide employees with real, concrete actions they can take to create a supportive and safe environment for all. At the same time, they provide workers with a deep understanding of, and empathy for, what marginalized groups face in the workplace.

With DEI training, employees are constantly growing and increasing their empathy for others, including their co-workers. And that creates a more inclusive workplace.

management training on dei topics

The role of language in DEI training

When it comes to diversity equity and inclusion, language matters.

In fact, according to Workhuman iQ research, implicit bias in the workplace is in approximately 20-30% of written communications — even in the most positive settings.

Through recognition language analysis, the data provided by an employee recognition platform — such as Workhuman’s Social Recognition® — can help reveal implicit biases that may be prevalent in your workplace.

Case in point … Workhuman data shows that recognition from men tends to be task oriented, and recognition from women tends to be relationship-oriented. While this isn’t inherently negative, these differences can create tension in the workplace if left unmitigated.

workhuman data

Building DEI training into a recognition platform

Inclusion Advisor — a key feature of Workhuman’s employee recognition platform — uses the industry’s first and only AI-driven coaching tool to build awareness and mitigate unconscious bias in language. Its in-the-moment, micro-coaching tools helps create a more inclusive, thoughtful, and welcoming workplace culture. In this way, unconscious bias training is no longer a one-time event. Instead, it embeds and operationalizes inclusion training at every level of the organization, and makes DEI training part of your organization’s DNA.

Does it work? Research from Workhuman iQ found that 75% of people chose to make a change to their language when unconscious bias was brought to their attention.

Workhuman's Inclusion Advisor

Why is DEI training important?

There is a strong business case for having a vigorous, dynamic diversity, equity, and inclusion training program at your organization – including its profound and very real power to attract and keep the best talent.

Knowing that an organization is fully committed to DEI initiatives and inclusion training is a key consideration for many – if not most – of the candidates you’ll be recruiting in the near future and beyond. That’s especially true for the millennial and Generation Z employees who will dominate the workforce in the coming years. That’s one reason why having a clear, committed DEI training program and other DEI initiatives is a smart, bottom-line business decision.

And yet, while having a diverse workforce and a more inclusive company culture is a top priority for senior leaders at organizations looking to attract and keep the best talent, progress in DEI initiatives has been — and continues to be — slow.

According to the CIPD’s Inclusion at Work 2022 report:

47% of senior decision-makers do not have a diversity, equality, and inclusion strategy or action plan ready

  • only 38% of employers collect “equal opportunities monitoring data” from their employees/applicants
  • 36% of companies do not anticipate focusing on any specific DEI areas in the next five years, indicating a lack of consensus on their DEI plans.

The bottom line? For those organizations looking to compete for the very top candidates – it makes smart business sense to double down on their commitment to DEI training.

Successful DEI training has benefits that extend beyond the organization, as well. It has a “halo” effect that shapes employees’ interactions with customers, partners — and even the surrounding communities.

Finally, DEI training creates a filter through which employees see their everyday work life and recognize their own hidden biases. In this way, workers create more opportunities to be inclusive in meetings and engage diverse employees. They are careful not to create content that is sending mixed or wrong messages. And they will be sure that any communication is more welcoming and inclusive.

better understanding of diversity inclusion and equity in the workplace

What does DEI training include?

DEI training can be given in either in-person or in an online format. It can take place in an intensive, short-term timeframe, or over the course of weeks – or even months. Some programs offer a modular structure, which provides even greater flexibility. Many are structured so that participants can take and complete modules at a pace that suits their needs and schedule.

For instance, the certificate program at Cornell university unfolds over the course of two months, with 3-5 hours per week. Instructor-led, the class size is 35 students and is 100% online.

Of particular note, some programs offer professional development credits – including Professional Development Credits (PDCs) toward SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP recertification.

For DEI training to be successful, it’s important that your champions of DEI be included in the process. This can include executives responsible for cultural development, HR professionals, or anyone within the organization who wants to be part of the process of bringing DEI maturity to their organization. It requires that participants embrace the idea that true diversity, equity, and inclusion must go beyond mere compliance and build an aware and inclusive work culture.

The best DE&I approach is delivered over an extended period, integrated with other initiatives, and designed to increase both awareness and skills. Use these 5 New Ideas to Extend DE&I Beyond a One-Time Training to get started.

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Examples of DEI certification courses for certification

Cornell University Certificate Program: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Overview: This program shows how to make their organization a more supportive and engaging place to work by understanding the perceptual, institutional, and psychological processes that impact the ways people interact with each other. Starting with a look at employee engagement, then identifying interventions surrounding unconscious bias and specific diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, this program is appropriate for anyone committed to going beyond mere compliance to build a truly aware and inclusive work culture.

Price: $2,589 or $975/month


  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell ILR School
  • 40 Professional Development Hours (4 CEUs)
  • 25 Professional Development Units (PDUs) toward PMI recertification
  • 40 Professional Development Credits (PDCs) toward SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP recertification
  • 40 Credit hours towards HRCI recertification

Who should attend:

  • Team managers and supervisors
  • Executives responsible for strategic culture efforts
  • Anyone interested in creating an inclusive and supportive culture that promotes equal opportunities and treatment of employees

Location/format: 100% online

Length: 2 months – 3-5 hours a week

American Management Association: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Certificate Program

Overview: This 3-day certificate program goes beyond standard D&I courses, and helps you develop skills to become a champion of diversity and a leader of inclusive teams. You’ll learn to recognize the uniqueness and multidimensional aspects of individual identity, understand biases on a deeper level, and explore behaviors that promote trust. You will also gain knowledge and tools to help you foster a thriving culture that promotes these values.

Price: $3,295 non-members/$2,995 AMA members

Who should attend: Leaders at all levels, HR professionals, or others who are responsible for or wish to take responsibility for diversity and inclusion in their organization.

Location/format: In-person classroom, online, onsite

Length: Classroom: 3 days; Online: 3 lessons

Harvard Extension School: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Leadership Graduate Certificate

Overview: Through self-reflection and the application of lessons from history, psychology, legal studies, social sciences, and management studies, participants will cultivate skills to develop and lead diversity and inclusion initiatives. With a graduate certificate in Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (EDIB) Leadership, leaders can become a powerful voice for strategic change within your organization – and gain critical knowledge and skills to address bias and marginalization and to foster an inclusive corporate culture.

Price: $3,100 (average course tuition)

Certifications: Graduate certificate in Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (EDIB) Leadership – An academic credential designed to help you create and lead strategic initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Who should attend: Executives, HR specialists, and managers will enhance their inclusive leadership skills to drive change in their organizations. The certificate will also benefit analysts, program managers, and project coordinators responsible for policies and programs.

Location/format: Online and on-campus options

Length: Complete the four certificate courses for graduate credit within three years.

participating in ERGs is good for DEI

Taking a strategic approach to building a DEI culture

How does an organization cultivate a more equitable and inclusive culture?

According to Brittany Harris, companies often want to respond quickly – perhaps too quickly – to situations “without giving equal attention to making sure the right people are part of the conversation.” As Brittany sees it, organizations need to be more strategic and less reactive in their DEI efforts to cultivate a “more equitable and inclusive culture.”

Since the early 1970s, organizations in corporate America have been engaged in matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and inclusive leadership is now wrestling with the reality that their DEI initiatives have fallen short of their desired goals. In Brittany’s view, it’s about making people feel that they are an “organizational insider,” and what makes them different is valued.

She uses the example of how “fit” has defined the way hiring managers and leaders identify talent. Brittany advocates a more holistic approach – one that goes beyond data and complements it with qualitative insights.

“Things that get measured get done, but this thinking fails to give equal attention to simply listening to people – especially those who are most impacted by systems of exclusion.”

In her view, if an organization is truly looking to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion, they need to talk to the people “who experience your organization – and actually bring them into the policy-making decisions.”

Meeting diversity goals in the C-suite

How do companies face the challenges of achieving diversity and correcting structural inequalities at the most senior levels? After all, it’s safe to say that most large corporations have work to do when it comes to DEI leadership development.

For Brittany, leveling the playing field starts with accountability. Is your organization partnering with companies that have a diverse representation on their executive leadership team? In her view, organizations must have a stake in how well their partners are invested in executive diversity.

When we think about process, we have to look at who is involved in sourcing and recruiting – and that includes executive search firms. “To what extent is diversity not just espoused, but enacted? Who and from where are they actually sourcing candidates?” She challenges organizations to “think more unconventionally” about the background and leadership capabilities they are looking for. “We conflate very subjective qualifications that are, more often than not, rooted in dominant norms.”

People Also Ask …



For this reason, it’s important that you and senior leadership redouble your commitment to overcoming systemic barriers and unconscious biases at your company, and redouble the time, money, and resources allocated to achieving DEI maturity.

A concerted, committed, and comprehensive DEI training strategy will be key to your efforts – and success!

Create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture in your organization

See for yourself how Workhuman’s Social Recognition solution — with its Inclusion Advisor feature — can help you infuse DEI training and awareness into your organization’s lifeblood, and help it achieve DEI maturity.

Request a demo today!