I’ve trained 5,000 retail employees. Here’s why Sephora’s one-hour diversity workshop is far from enough


It seems that the partial-day inclusion focused or anti-bias training model might be catching on for chain retailers.

But training thousands of in-store employees simultaneously is costly and time-consuming. One reason they could fail is that the employees may have lost belief in their organization to deliver comprehensive and effective training because bias may have gone unchecked for so long.

As an inclusion and diversity leader, I have trained over 5,000 retail leaders at such events. With such a hefty investment-not to mention lost sales as a result of store closures-organizations conducting company-wide diversity training will want to get this right. While it is ideal to start shifting messaging and inclusive behaviors at the leadership level first, before launching any employee specific training, I’ve identified three key things any inclusion and diversity training must do in order to be effective.

Leave room for emotions

Interactivity is critical in training, especially with a topic that is as broad, nebulous, and sometimes uncomfortable as inclusion. These can also be highly emotional topics, so even the most well-written material isn’t going to be as effective as a person who knows how to go deep in a discussion and manage the passion that may come up. Whenever possible, I encourage companies to use in-person and experienced trainers that know how to leave room for the feelings that will invariably surface.

In cases where an in-person experience is near impossible, such as a company-wide training at a chain retailer like Starbucks or Sephora, emotional check-ins and follow-up become critical. If the emotions, questions, and ideas that arise throughout the training aren’t captured and followed up on, the training will feel like employers are just checking a box.

Allow an opportunity for taking perspectives

Perspective taking is the act of mentally putting yourself in someone else’s shoes so you can relate to or empathize with their unique experience. When I train employees, I use everyday, real-life examples that touch on the many parts of us that form our identities. I try to bring the big ideas of inclusion down to earth by encouraging participants to essentially step into one another’s shoes.

For example, I may lead with a simple scenario that most people can relate to experiencing on either side, like, “What do you do when you encounter someone with a name you are unsure how to pronounce?” At first, no one will want to admit they avoid saying a colleague’s name. But inevitably, things lighten up when someone with a unique name describes the experience of teaching people how to say their name, or how included they feel when others make the effort to pronounce their name correctly.

While navigating names doesn’t directly touch on race, culture, or religion, it connects to identity and allows employees to easily try on different perspectives. Using everyday experiences like name pronunciation gets people to see themselves and their natural responses more clearly. But it also helps them understand the value in seeing the perspective of others.

Set specific goals

The most important thing you must do to have a shot at real change is to set specific goals for everyone’s behavior going forward. At the end of each training I deliver, I share behaviors for employees to focus on. These are things that my clients and I have selected and crafted in partnership. I walk employees through each behavior with examples that relate to their day-to-day experience.

We then take things a step further by asking each employee to pick two or three specific behavior changes they will focus on moving forward. We encourage them to also share these goals with their leaders and peers for accountability.

As an example, one specific behavior change for an employee might be “use identity inclusive language.” In this case, the person in question might choose to start saying “Hey, everyone,” or “Hey, team,” instead of their usual “Hey, guys,” when greeting team members. Having challenging yet, attainable behavior-changing goals helps everyone see their role in shifting workplace culture.

Leaving room for emotions, perspective taking, and setting specific goals are non-negotiable if you want to conduct effective inclusivity training. And while inclusion and diversity are not just about training, it’s a start.

If an organization is really serious about creating an inclusive environment, companies should dedicate time and energy to develop a comprehensive strategy to move toward an inclusive culture. This would include training, but it would also mean creating sustainable tactics, developing resources, and setting specific next steps to keep inclusion goals top of mind for everyone going forward.

Amber Cabral is a former Fortune 1 executive who is now a diversity and inclusion consultant to major retailers and the Fortune 500 at her company CabralCo.