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Diversity Workshops: Do's and Don'ts

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Organizing diversity workshops is a challenging undertaking. Whether the event takes place among coworkers, classmates or community members, the likelihood that tension will arise is high. The point of such a workshop is to help participants understand diversity’s significance and how to relate to each other more respectfully as a result. To achieve this, sensitive subject matter will be shared, and issues will be raised that not everyone sees eye to eye on.

Fortunately, you can take several steps to prevent your diversity workshop from flopping. They include setting ground rules, fostering team-building and consulting diversity experts. Let’s begin with the most basic element of presenting a diversity workshop. Where will it be held?

Location! Location! Location! – In-House or Off-Site?

Where you hold your diversity workshop depends on how comprehensive it will be. Will the program last a couple of hours, all day or longer? The length depends on how much information needs to be given out. Is this the most recent in a series of diversity workshops you’ve held? Then, perhaps a shorter program is more appropriate. On the other hand, if you’re presenting the first diversity workshop at your organization, consider planning for the event to take place all day someplace off-site, such as a nearby hotel or lodge in the woods. Holding such a workshop in another location will keep people’s minds off their daily routines on to the task at-hand—diversity. Taking a trip together also creates opportunities for your team to bond, an experience that will be of use when it’s time to open up and share during the workshop.

If finances are an issue or a day-trip just isn’t feasible for your organization, try holding the workshop somewhere on site that’s comfortable, quiet and can accommodate the necessary number of participants. Is this a place where lunch can be served, and attendees can make quick trips to the bathroom? Lastly, if the workshop isn’t a school-wide or company-wide event, make sure to post signs letting those who aren’t participating know not to interrupt the sessions.

Ground Rules Can Help Create a Safe Environment

Before you begin the workshop, establish ground rules to make the environment one in which everyone feels comfortable sharing. Ground rules don’t have to be complicated and should be limited to about five or six to make them easy to remember. Post the ground rules in a central location so that everyone can see them. To help workshop attendees feel invested in the sessions, include their input when creating ground rules. Below is a list of guidelines to consider during a diversity session.

  • Personal information shared during the workshop remains confidential.
  • No talking over others.
  • Disagree respectfully rather than with put-downs or judgmental criticism.
  • Don’t give feedback to others unless you are asked specifically to do so.
  • Refrain from making generalizations or invoking stereotypes about groups.

Use Ice Breakers to Build Bridges

Discussing race, class and gender isn’t easy. Many people don’t discuss these issues among family members, let alone with coworkers or classmates. Help your team ease into these subjects with an ice breaker. The activity can be simple. For example, when introducing themselves, everyone can share a foreign country they’ve traveled to or would like to and why.

Content Is Crucial

Not sure what material to cover during the workshop? Turn to a diversity consultant for advice. Tell the consultant about your organization, the major diversity issues it faces and what you hope to achieve from the workshop. A consultant can came to your organization and facilitate the workshop or coach you on how to lead a diversity session. If your organization’s budget is tight, more cost-effective measures include speaking with a consultant by telephone or taking webinars about diversity workshops.

Make sure to do your research before hiring a consultant. Find out the consultant’s areas of expertise. Obtain references and get a client list, if possible. What kind of rapport do the two of you have? Does the consultant have a personality and background that will suit your organization?

How to Wrap-Up the Workshop

End the workshop by allowing attendees to share what they’ve learned. They can do this verbally with the group and individually on paper. Have them complete an evaluation, so you can gauge what worked best about the workshop and what improvements need to be made.

Tell the participants how you plan to instill what they’ve learned in the organization, be it a workplace, classroom or community center. Following through on the topics raised will influence attendees to invest in future workshops. In contrast, if the information presented is never touched on again, the sessions may be considered a waste of time. Given this, be sure to engage the ideas brought forth during the workshop as soon as possible.

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