Far too often we see or hear about a company’s brand and reputation tarnished or ruined because an employee exercises poor judgment, overreacts or makes racially insensitive comments. Consider the recent incidents at Starbucks, Waffle House, Barney’s, Louis Vuitton, Papa Johns, the Red Hen Restaurant, Planet Fitness and so many other companies. These negative encounters are sometimes even caught on video tape and ultimately go viral. Just as often, they are witnessed by others in the workforce and morally undermine the company’s culture, principles and operating environment.

An Untrained Workforce: Understanding the Drivers of Risk

As an expert and former instructor in diversity awareness training for Fortune-ranked companies’ security departments throughout the country over my 30-year career in the private sector, I’m deeply invested in helping to ensure that companies proactively address the four primary drivers of negative diversity-related incidents: (1) lack of tolerance, (2) cultural biases, (3) poor communicational skills, and (4) insensitivity to areas such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies.

Training: Diversity Awareness Programs or Courses Are a Prudent Tactic

Many companies get out in front of this issue by delivering regular annual or bi-annual training courses for their general employee populations as well as specific teams. Doing so doesn’t just remind and educate employees about appropriate behaviors, but also makes the company’s standards clear on its expectations of all personnel.

The most effective and comprehensive diversity awareness training programs address and reflect – at minimum – the following five core concepts:

  • Must be interactive. The course should involve various role-playing of common scenarios among the groups or teams. The class should have an opportunity to see, hear and experience examples of both positive encounters and negative encounters. The training should provide a multitude of scenarios that could take place during the course of a business day, and ultimately train your staff on how not to overreact, internalize, panic, or escalate the situation themselves by interacting inappropriately.
  • Must contain a segment on effective communication skills. What’s this include? Topics such as active listening skills, understanding body language, respecting a person’s personal space, professional tone and demeanor, and proper telephone etiquette.
  • Must examine an appropriate spectrum of attitudes and behaviors. This should include, for example, a segment on racial biases, common stereotypes, religious tolerance, racial profiling, sexual orientation and mental health issues.
  • Must address de-escalation techniques. How can one properly and professionally diffuse and de-escalate a potentially volatile situation before it spirals out of control?
  • Must address proper escalation and reporting steps. When should the individual call 911 for law enforcement assistance? When is an incident at risk of becoming an act of violence or a threats of harm? What should one do if one witnesses a crime or even just an unruly customer who jeopardizes public safety?

Outcomes: A Wealth of Rewards – for Your Staff and Your Business

If the training program is successful, it will provide your team with the knowledge, skill set, and most importantly, the confidence to interact properly and professionally with one another and the general public. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve helped guide teams to these outcomes. It’s exciting, and rewarding, to see the results.

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