Why a 2-hour workshop alone will not fix your company’s DEI problems


Many organizations that are just beginning their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) start with holding a workshop. Workshops are also used as a crisis management strategy, so that high-profile companies can signal their commitment to equity after an incident. For instance, Starbucks held a racial implicit bias workshop for all employees after two Black men were arrested for sitting in the café without making a purchase. A workshop can be the start of a company’s DEI work, but it should not end there. As Sharon Maylor Ph.D., YW Boston’s Organizational Development Manager, explains, “If you are looking to frustrate your staff, only do a workshop. They will ask ‘what’s next?’”

At YW Boston, we understand why organizations jump at the chance to hold a workshop. We hold them ourselves, as a part of our expansive DEI services, often to organizations not ready to commit to our full InclusionBoston program. We offer a number of 1 to 3-hour workshops on topics such as “Understanding Racial Equity” or “Microaggressions.” These workshops aren’t a large time-commitment for organizations and organizations feel secure knowing what they are entering into.

Sharon works with organizations as they develop and implement their InclusionBoston action plans. She also supports the InclusionBoston team with facilitating workshops. So, we sat down with her to get a clear picture of when workshops can be beneficial to an organization, and why they must always be followed by longer-term commitments. Here’s what she had to share.

Workshops are useful in creating shared language among staff.

It is rare that all members of an organization’s staff have the same understanding about issues of social equity. Some staff members may learn about and discuss racial and gender equity often, while others are less familiar with certain terminology. In order for staff to be effective in their DEI initiatives, everyone must have some level of proficiency in understanding topics of equity and inclusion.

Workshops serve to create this shared language among staff, and to facilitate communication between staff members around this language. For instance, in a workshop on social identities, participants learn about the identities they hold and begin to understand how this impacts their work life. By having a baseline understanding together, staff members can feel more confident about driving DEI work together in the future.

But workshops cannot provide all of the knowledge or skills your staff needs to commit to DEI.

Sharon shared that the most common feedback she receives in regards to workshops is that there is simply not enough time. This is the biggest reason why workshops alone are not enough. Each workshop includes some time for staff to discuss where their organization is in their DEI journey, and how they can apply what they’ve learned to move DEI initiatives forward. However, this only scratches the surface of how deeply workshop participants want and need to assess their own organization. If there are no next steps planned, employees will return to their workflow silos without a space to continue their work.

One workshop topic that is requested often is Implicit Bias. Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Leaders sometimes believe that office discrimination will end when employees remove their biases. YW Boston recognizes it is impossible for individuals to shed their biases. Instead, individuals can focus on reducing the impact of their biases on their work. Organizations must commit to breaking the link between biases and behaviors by addressing workplace systems and culture. As Sharon explained, when organizations seek to address individual bias without examining organizational structures, they miss addressing the root causes of inequities.

A final reason why workshops cannot be the end of an organization’s DEI commitment is the extent of evaluation in workshops. Many organizations that offer workshops may only provide a follow-up survey to collect feedback. YW Boston workshop participants complete a pre-workshop in order for facilitators to customize workshops and have a sense of how individuals feel about their organizations. We also issue a post-workshop evaluation to see whether staff gained new language and awareness during the workshop. However, because workshops are a single moment in time, the evaluation does not determine whether participants hold onto this knowledge or whether they put it into action.

Meaningful change comes from long-term investment.

Following workshops, staff are often energized by what they have learned and seek to put it into practice. This momentum can fall flat if the organization has not planned next steps in their DEI journey. And, Sharon shared, organizations rarely know their next step.

Organizations will benefit from creating spaces where their staff can continue to learn together and can spend the necessary time evaluating gaps in their organization’s DEI. They can build on what they’ve learned during the workshops, especially their shared language. Instituting real, long-lasting change requires employees to be in dialogue together and to build trust. YW Boston’s InclusionBoston series utilizes five 2-hour sessions to build this trust among participants, where the focus is on active listening, relationship building, and connecting observation to action.

This dedicated time together results in a staff ready to create and implement a DEI action plan. This is when Sharon sees participants connect the dots between their organization’s needs and what they have the power to change. As Organizational Development Manager, Sharon works with InclusionBoston facilitators and the organization to develop a custom action plan. When helping them with their action plans, Sharon impresses the fact that this action plan is not a “one and done.” As a result of the frameworks InclusionBoston participants have gained and the trust they have built, organizations will be able to modify their plan or develop a new one as their circumstances evolve.

You should consider a long-term evaluation strategy, too. Evaluation plays a crucial role throughout the InclusionBoston process, with data collected throughout the different stages of the 13-month engagement. By surveying participants before, after, and then quarterly following the series, we evaluate changes in participants’ attitudes and behaviors over time, as well as measure the successes and barriers of implementing their action plans. Long-term evaluation will help you set benchmarks, report on your goals, and iterate to make the necessary adjustments along the way.

So, should my organization host a workshop?

If you are trying to decide whether your organization should participate in a workshop or not, ask yourself and your team what you are trying to solve. If you want to ensure that your staff knows about key diversity, equity, and inclusion terminology and concepts, then a workshop can help you get there. A workshop can also help you demonstrate to your team, department, leadership, or overall organization that there is an appetite to do this deeper work. But if you are looking to create an effective, actionable DEI plan, you won’t find it with one or even a series of workshops. Don’t use workshops as a way to signal commitment when your company hasn’t planned any further action steps or hasn’t determined whether it is willing to invest in deeper work.

Instead, invest time and resources. Ensure you set aside the weeks, months, and even years it takes to understand your organization’s needs, build trust, and create and implement an action plan. Workshops may fill a need within this long-term plan, especially if you’ve found an area where staff needs more knowledge. While it may be tempting, and while you may feel pressure from your staff, to try to fix every DEI issue quickly, it simply isn’t possible. Make it clear to employees that your organization’s time investment is action-oriented and ongoing. As Sharon impressed, action planning is a continuous process.

If you aren’t sure where to begin or how to structure your long-term commitment, we invite you to learn more about InclusionBoston and consider how the program may help you reach your goals.


About InclusionBoston 

InclusionBoston advances diversity, equity, and inclusion by partnering with organizations looking for improved results. Using our advanced assessment tool and the latest research on behavioral and organizational change, we partner with organizations to create an action plan and provide them with the resources needed to drive lasting change. Our customized, evidence-based approach builds internal capacity and promotes cultural change while supporting organizations throughout their journey. YW Boston also offers one-day workshops where participants explore frameworks, develop knowledge, and engage in dialogue. 

Ready to unlock the power of diversity in the workplace? Click here to learn more about InclusionBoston and request your free consultation.