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Board Members Memo: Where to Start With Diversity, Inclusion, and Bias Training

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by Kelly Peterson, Director of Digital Strategy, Independent Publishers Group

Kelly Peterson

Read below for tips on how to incorporate DEI training into your organization.

I don’t think anyone made it out of 2020 without confronting the racial divide in America. Whether it was football players kneeling during the anthem, George Floyd’s murder dominating the news, or protests in every American town of size, we all have feelings and opinions about what it means to move forward—and what that future will mean for all of us.

Over the past decade, many organizations have begun offering group training around inclusion in an effort to promote dialogue around race and other diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues. For example, companies I’ve worked for in the past have offered sexual harassment and diversity and inclusion training combined, and I’ve taken advantage of many types. Most were online and a great introduction for those wondering how to get started. Many were free, like those pulled together by the muse, Indeed.com, and Business Insider. One of my favorite free tools is Project Implicit, which is like a video game that helps reveal where you may have bias. I wish all the things that are good for you were this enjoyable! (I’m looking at you, cardio.)

There are larger human resources trainings online as well, where DEI work is bundled with sexual harassment and leadership work. A new segment of HR training has emerged called massive open online courses (MOOCs), where tens of millions of employees and managers receive instruction. Some companies that offer those programs are Paradigm, Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, and Udacity. Those interested in using a program like this can refer to an article by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) to differentiate the different packages. Something to keep in mind, however, is that while these MOOCs give examples of workplace misunderstandings and conflicts, the employees are not working together during the training. Still, these resources can help you understand where you might be hindered by what you were taught in the past.

Personally, I feel group trainings with cohorts are the most productive—and the most challenging. The first DEI group session I attended was taught by Farzana Nayani, a Los Angeles-based DEI coach and author of Raising Multiracial Children. She did a great deal of prep prior to the session and crafted a training specifically for Bay Area Women in Publishing (BAWiP), where I sit on the board of directors. She had been a keynote speaker at Publishing Professionals Network in the Bay Area, and attendees from BAWiP were impressed by her talk and targeted discussion.

A large part of Nayani’s training was based around a self-assessment with open-ended questions that we discussed together. Although we all answered a question like, “How objective can I be in talking about race overall, and about specific groups?”, we didn’t all speak to that point. Instead, Nayani identified who should answer the question for the group so that we could prioritize the dialogue for a specific participant.

Nayani’s training, which happened between women who have known each other for years, often opened up difficult and uncomfortable conversations, but by the second meeting, we were more comfortable holding each other accountable. Nayani also suggested some ways BAWiP could expand and provide spaces for affinity groups open for members of common identity. These groups have been implemented, and BAWiP has seen improvement in its inclusivity in both board composition and involvement since the training.

Nayani’s training is recommended for an organization that is already committed to anti-racism and looking to challenge its status quo and ideas for a more inclusive future. This doesn’t come without a little stretch and discomfort, so remembering to lean into that discomfort is key to success. Some readings that will add to this work include Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown and Subtle Acts of Exclusion by Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran. Those interested can hear Nayani in action here.

IBPA produced another DEI group training that I participated in over the month of December 2020. The training, called The No Nonsense Experience, was developed by IBPA’s DEI consultant Dr. James Pogue, an expert on diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias, and led by a moderator for a group of around eight people at a time.

In my group, everyone spoke about each topic and helped one another through the questions and their thoughts and feelings. The No Nonsense training was led by a professor who cultivated a sense of learning and reinforcement. The discussions were unfailingly kind and thoughtful and certainly a helpful way to discuss difficult topics around race and bias without defensiveness.

Pogue’s training is an introduction to anti-racism through discussions of inclusion. It increased my knowledge and helped our group find common ground. Preparation wasn’t necessary, since much was assigned as homework. If you’d like to prepare anyway, I’d recommend reading How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi or The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, a book I read after the training. I’d also recommend watching 13th, a documentary on Netflix. You can also watch Pogue talk about how to stand for inclusion and diversity in your workplace here.

Every DEI training I’ve participated in has added to my cultural database and has been valuable in its own right. I have always believed, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Still, there is great injustice in our country that is more and more visible each day thanks to cellphone and dash cam recordings; each training is a tool toward inspired action. It takes all of us to get to that finish line of justice together.

Whether by watching free videos, taking implicit bias tests, or grabbing a book, this work starts with questioning what we’ve internalized. Once we’re ready to do more, group trainings can help us all be on the right side of history.

Kelly Peterson is director of digital strategy at Independent Publishers Group (IPG) and brings 20+ years of marketing and merchandising experience to her current role, helping major trade publishers, university presses, independent publishers, agents, and authors maximize their e-book sales and marketing efforts at the major retailers. Prior to IPG, she was the director of client services for INscribe Digital. She is also a member of IBPA’s DEI Task Force.

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