2020 was a year rife with crisis. A global pandemic, ongoing police shootings of black and brown people and subsequent nationwide protests brought racial inequities in the US to the forefront. Conversations outside of work moved inside as employees expected employers to stand behind them. Companies responded: openings for Directors of Diversity and other Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) related job titles were 54% higher in December 2020 than pre-crisis levels. (Glassdoor). Along with that increase came a higher demand for DEI, Unconscious Bias and Anti-racism training.

2020 also was no different than any other period where people emerge from the chaos in seek of opportunity. Indeed, a new rash of self-labeled diversity and/or unconscious bias trainers have come forward in the aftermath, many offering ineffective training that does not work.


The last thing you would expect is a long-time DEI professional saying that diversity training doesn’t work. Yet that’s not the full picture. The broader picture is that ineffective training can actually do more damage than good.

Successful DEI training should be grounded in research and based on proven theory and techniques for creating equity and inclusion. Many would-be DEI consultants who are new to the field lack the ability to create effective training curricula. Here are a few things to consider when selecting your DEI consultant:

  • Are intercultural services the vendor’s core business?
  • Does the provider have the appropriate knowledge base and program design and delivery skills?
  • Have they contributed to the intercultural field by writing articles or books and making presentations at professional conferences?
  • Can they identify and discuss key cross-cultural concepts?
  • Do they understand the developmental states people experience in becoming culturally competent?

(See an in-depth guide on Selecting Diversity Consultants and Trainers here.)


“When unconscious bias became a thing, a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon and said they could do this work,” says Elmer Dixon, President of Executive Diversity Services (EDS). However, “most unconscious bias trainers identify only surface level bias, what EDS calls the Physiognomy of Unconscious Bias. What they fail to do is to look at the deeper implications of unconscious bias and how it impacts hiring, promotions and a lack of inclusion on teams,” adds Dixon.

Identifying bias is only one part of the equation. You also need tools to respond. For example if one finds they harbor a bias against people of a different gender, superficial trainings will call for more exposure—e.g. to spend more time with people of that gender. “Mere exposure without tools that get at the deeper level of unconscious bias will not address the more complex issues,” says Dixon.


If the trainer is offering a quick one-and-done training, “it’s not worth the time or investment,” says Dixon. And if they are only offering unconscious bias training, that is a red flag right there. Bias training is only one small part of broader DEI training. According to a BBC Worklife article: “the kind of training which institutions tend to favor the most, such as “short, one-shot sessions that can be completed and the requisite diversity boxes ticked,” are unlikely to make a difference in the habits or long-term behavior of participants.” (Zulekha, 2021).

“What’s next?” is a good question to ask after an initial training. How is the trainer continuing to build knowledge and competence within the company? “Remember that cross-cultural competence is not a destination, but an ongoing journey. You’re never done. You can always learn more,” says Dixon. (Read more about DEI training as a part of an overall DEI strategy.)


Having diverse groups of employees that know how to best communicate and work with one another is key to success. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. (HBR, 2016).

Having a qualified DEI consultant can make a difference in your company’s success. Check the trainer’s background and references. How long have they been doing this training? What are measurable outcomes (beyond number of people trained). How are they following up in three, six or nine months? And are they customizing the training to your needs?

Training led by a qualified trainer, that is tied to company business goals, is part of an ongoing company-wide strategy and has support from the top of the organization, is what will ensure successful outcomes.

See an in-depth guide on Selecting Diversity Consultants and Trainers here or contact us to learn more.



Dobbin, Frank, and Alexandra Kalev. Why Doesn’t Diversity Training Work? The Challenge for Industry and Academia. Harvard Scholar, 2018 https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/dobbin/files/an2018.pdf

Maurer, Roy. New DE&I Roles Sike after Racial Justice Protests. August 6, 2020 https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/new-dei-roles-spike-after-racial-justice-protests.aspx

Rock, David and Heidi Grant. Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter, Harvard Business Review, November 4, 2016 https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter

Rock, David and Paulette Gerkovich, PhD. Why Diverse Teams Outperform Homogeneous Teams, neuroleadership.com, June 10, 2021 https://neuroleadership.com/your-brain-at-work/why-diverse-teams-outperform-homogeneous-teams/

Stansell, Amanda and Daniel Zhao, Diversity Now: How Companies and Workers Are Bringing Nationwide Social Justice Protests to the Workplace. July 15, 2020, updated December 9, 2020. https://www.glassdoor.com/research/diversity-jobs-reviews/

Story, Sylvana. Unconscious Bias — Making Millions From Theory, Huffington Post, January 15, 2016 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/unconscious-bias-making-m_b_8771258

Zulekha, Nathoo. Why ineffective diversity training won’t go away. bbc.com, June 16, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210614-why-ineffective-diversity-training-wont-go-away

Read the original article published on Executive Diversity Services, Inc.

About the Author

Deanna Shoss (she/her) is a marketer, writer and interculturalist in Chicago. As CEO of Intercultural Talk, Inc., she provides digital, intercultural, and real-life marketing for non-digital natives. She helps people who seek strategy and tactics to build their business or realize a purpose-driven project with websites, blogging, enewsletters, social media and promotions in real life. Deanna speaks Portuguese and is a certified Body Pump instructor. Learn more at interculturaltalk.com or follow her on Twitter, @cultureguru

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