Organizations invest a lot of resources into diversity training globally. According to the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) – Global Market Trajectory & Analytics Report, the market for diversity and inclusion is estimated at $3.4 billion for the U.S. alone and $7.5 billion globally in 2020. According to LinkedIn, 64% of learning and development professionals from 27 countries reported that their executives made diversity and inclusion programs a priority.

How well does diversity training work in different countries? Will a diversity training that has been effective in one country also be successful in another country? To answer this, we examined available research on how country culture influences the outcomes of diversity training and came up with some valuable insights.

How Are Organizations Commonly Implementing Diversity Training?

Although organizations may employ various types of diversity training, the primary objective is typically to create an inclusive workplace culture that values employees regardless of their personal attributes such as gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, age, religion, disability, etc. Generally, diversity training can be classified into two main types:

  • Awareness-based training focuses on increasing employees' awareness of biases and stereotypes toward those who belong to minority groups. This training is to help employees better understand their own cultural assumptions and the diverse beliefs and values held by their colleagues. Examples include Google's unconscious bias workshop and Starbuck's racial-bias education.
  • Behavior/skill-based training is designed to educate employees on effective interactions with individuals from diverse backgrounds, enabling them to monitor their actions and behave appropriately in intercultural settings. This type of training emphasizes the importance of avoiding inappropriate jokes or comments about others and demonstrating support and empathy towards minority employees.

While some organizations may focus on either awareness-based training or behavior/skill-based training, many include both elements in a single diversity training program. In our review, 37% of the studies examined awareness-based training, 2% were based on behavior/skill-based training, and 61% used both types of diversity training.

How Effective is Diversity Training Inside and Outside the U.S.?

We looked at over 300 studies on diversity training from 19 different countries and regions. Not surprisingly, most were from the U.S. Other locations were Canada, Australia, the U.K., Germany, South Africa, Spain, Argentina, China, El Salvador, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Rwanda, Sweden, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Turkey. For example, our analysis revealed that the diversity training, on average, reduced sexism and bias towards minority groups both inside and outside the U.S. But, there were nuanced differences that could have important practical implications.

Awareness-Based Training Is Ineffective Outside the U.S.

This kind of training seems to be effective within the U.S., but not outside of it. Awareness-based training seems to be even more counter-productive in countries with high power distance, collectivism, and uncertainty avoidance. In cultures with high power distance, such as Malaysia and Singapore, hierarchical relationships and status are highly valued, and there is a greater tolerance for power inequality. In collectivistic societies like China and Japan, consistency and equal treatment across individuals are highly valued. In high uncertainty avoidance cultures, such as Spain and South Korea, there is a greater tendency towards in-group bias, favoring familiar groups over those who are less familiar. Our findings suggest that merely raising awareness of biases and stereotypes can be perceived as a challenge to traditional values in these cultures, leading to resistance to change and the advancement of minority groups.   

Behavior/Skill-Based Training is Effective Outside the U.S.

However, we found that awareness-based training can be effective outside the U.S. when paired with behavior/skill-based training. Traditional awareness-based training consists of a lecture-style workshop or online module that educates employees on cultural differences and stereotypes. We recommend that organizations diversify their diversity training, adding more elements on skill and behavior training. For example, recent research suggests that organizations can incorporate role-playing or behavior-modeling exercises into diversity training, conduct experiential activities, for example, perspective-taking and goal setting to practice communication with diverse individuals in their diversity training programs, or implement a mentorship workshop to develop employees' competency to supervise and work with mentees from underrepresented minorities. We believe that augmenting a predominantly awareness-based training with relevant behavior and skills for effective intercultural communication leads to greater successes in diversity training outside the U.S.

For Further Reading

Kawasaki, S., & Zou, X. (2023). A meta-analytic evaluation of diversity training outcomes across cultures. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, e12741. spc3.12741

Shota Kawasaki is a PhD student in Leadership, Management, and Organization at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His current research interests pertain to the influence of organizational cultures on employee well-being and performance.

Xi Zou is an Associate Professor at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research draws on social psychology to understand how culture and motivation shape people's judgments, decision-making, and behaviors, and the implications for interpersonal dynamics and job performance.