Industry Insights

How Can Experiential Learning Improve Diversity in the Workplace

Posted by Slavina Pancheva on Aug 19, 2021 9:30:00 AM

There are clear moral and business imperatives for companies to fully establish a diverse workplace. A commitment to diversity is not only important as a way to overcome historic prejudices based on sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other factors of discrimination, it is also a means of boosting business performance: diverse teams have been shown to drive stronger business results. This makes sense on an intuitive level; people of different backgrounds and experiences are likely to bring in different points of view and come up with a broader variety of ideas when solving problems. When hiring the best and brightest, managers need to ensure they don’t end up with copies of themselves, which may feel comfortable but often leads to groupthink and major oversights. Once diverse teams are established, companies need to work on the inclusion and equity part, making sure that every employee is treated equitably and has equal opportunities for advancement.

There are many ways to boost Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, from implementing policies such as anti-discrimination policies and flexible working, for example, to establishing a culture in which people feel comfortable to bring their full selves to work. Learning & Development (L&D) has an important part to play in this mission, by equipping employees with the skills and behaviours needed to make diversity an everyday reality. You might be surprised to hear it, but incorporating an experiential learning approach can be a great way for L&D teams to boost diversity in the workplace.

Improving diversity and inclusion with experiential learning

How can experiential learning help with diversity?

Experiential learning is a practical approach to building competencies, by allowing participants to live and breathe the skills and behaviours they are trying to learn, rather than merely being told about them through a more passive, top-down learning method. On the whole, experiential learning has been proven to be much more effective in boosting learning impact and retention than traditional classroom style methods. It follows that Diversity & Inclusion training can be made more effective by employing this type of approach.

Establishing a stronger D&I culture through experiential learning can be done in two principal ways. The training can focus directly on a facet of diversity, for example, unconscious bias, as the subject matter of the learning program. When done classroom-style, this type of training involves participants being lectured about the topic at hand, which may resonate with them at an intellectual level but no further. Consider, on the other hand, an experiential learning approach: an unconscious bias case study where participants work on a fictious situation and experience and observe their own reactions of bias (which remain confidential). Here, learners “feel” the topic and thus have an emotional reaction in addition to the intellectual one, which has been proven to lead to much higher retention.

Using experiential learning to boost D&I in an indirect way can also be highly effective. This involves delivering a learning program on another topic, such as leadership or business acumen, but structuring sessions in such a way that participants can observe and reflect on behaviours that link to diversity. Experiential learning can be particularly potent in this respect. Take business simulations, a prime example of experiential learning. Here, participants work against the clock in teams to run a fictitious company in a true-to-life, challenging business setting. In such a time-pressured and competitive environment, participants tend to behave as they would in a similar situation in real life, providing a much more realistic assessment of behaviour than “what would you do in this type of situation” type questionnaire. During the simulation, participants and coaches observe their own and others’ behaviour, and reflect and debrief this afterwards. This provides an excellent platform for probing behaviours linked to diversity and inclusion (Did everyone contribute? Were they equally included? Was everyone’s contribution equally valued?... and so on.) Skilled facilitators are needed to guide the reflection, so that observations do not feel accusatory and instead provide guidance on how to improve for the future.

At StratX ExL, we believe that creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is an imperative for successful leaders of today and tomorrow. To learn more about other key leadership trends, download our latest whitepaper.

Leadership Development Trends Whitepaper

Topics: Experiential Learning, Workforce Diversity

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