ONE THING HAS NOT CHANGED
Approaches to diversity have changed, but there is one constant: a desire to know whether training really changes people. So, we decided to initiate a landmark study to find out with help from two clients—a major health system and a prominent university. The hospital was willing to be the laboratory, my company provided the training, and the university is conducting the research. Our goal is to see if there is any scientifically measurable difference in those trained to be inclusive and committed to practicing it.
DIVERSITY AS A PERCEIVED THREAT
Unfortunately, when it comes to issues of diversity, humans are fairly predictable. Not only are we tribal, but when we encounter others who are not of our tribe—meaning a different race, gender, whatever—it is usually perceived as a threat that registers biochemically as a “stress response.” From a work perspective, this is a concern, because when our brain chemistry is negative it not only creates tension but inhibits performance.
A CHANGE IN PERCEPTION
Of course, the more uncomfortable we are around people we perceive as different, the more stress we exhibit; but studies show when we have familiarity with just one person from another group it can reduce stress levels when we are with other people from that group. What a discovery—and perhaps the secret to changing our interactions for the better. Incidentally, increased comfortability will also improve our success in a diverse world. So, how can training accomplish this and how can we prove it? It starts with training that is based not only in information, but in behavior change.
IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT WE KNOW
Unfortunately, too many diversity programs are only discussions—but in a work environment, people need to know what to do. It might be compared to improving our health. Going to a class on nutrition will not make us fit: we have to change our behaviors to see results. It’s not what we know, it’s what we do that matters; and our success is measurable.
IT’S ABOUT WHAT WE DO
For this reason, we designed a workshop that looks at behaviors that create “disconnects” and tend to increase cortisol. These disconnects often occur because of differences, and are problematic because they impact employee engagement and customer relations. Fortunately, there are counter-behaviors that are more inclusive which improve outcomes we can measure through neuroscience. By focusing on these behaviors, we can do more than just train people—we can give them follow-up practices that reduce tension levels. Here’s how we plan to prove it.
THE CONNECTING PROJECT
We’ll begin by measuring the biochemistry of 100 people when interacting with those of a different race. Half of them will then go through our training and commit to follow-up practices for two months. This involves intentional effort to interact more inclusively. Finally, we will re-test all 100 participants during interracial interactions to see if their cortisol levels have changed.
WHAT WE CAN FINALLY SAY
What we anticipate is a reduction in stress as measured biochemically for those who are trained and do the activities. This would suggest that training coupled with inclusive practices leads to increased comfortability, which leads to greater inclusion. If the results turn out as expected, it will prove diversity training can change people if they act on it. In addition, the improved interactions mean better outcomes.