Why Your Company Needs Diversity and Sensitivity Training

Sensitivity Training Defined

It's first important that we analyze what sensitivity training really is, then talk about what it isn't. The reason for this is that a good portion of people resist or try to refuse any type of sensitivity or diversity training. They think they don't need it, because they don't think they're prejudiced – or they believe it's an attempt by the "liberal establishment" to require everyone in the workplace to be politically correct at all times. Let's make it clear. Neither of those rationales for avoiding or refusing to participate in a sensitivity or diversity training programs are correct.

As you can see, sensitivity training is not about being politically correct. It's also not based on the belief that you, alone, have been singled out as being prejudiced, bigoted, or racist. Instead, it's a technique used to raise awareness of your own beliefs, feelings, and culture – and then to raise your awareness of other groups' beliefs, feelings, and culture to foster an understanding and improve communication.

Sensitivity training can build a bridge between you and a co-worker, you and employees, or you and your organization. It builds a bridge by giving you knowledge and understanding. You can use that bridge to strengthen workplace relationships, improve productivity, and also advance within your organization. In conclusion, sensitivity training is nothing more than knowledge on how to effectively work and communicate with everyone in your workplace, no matter who they are.

Why Sensitivity Training is Needed

A lot of myths have been created around sensitivity training since it's become fairly mainstreamed in the workplace. Again, you will encounter more than several people who believe that sensitivity training (or diversity training) has risen from the need for all of us to remain politically correct – and even tip-toe around certain groups of people as to not offend them. These things are not true.

That said, there are a lot of people who are resistant to the change in the workplace. Perhaps they are even somewhat resistant to embracing diversity, instead of shying away from it. How many times have you, or someone you know, been frustrated with a customer service representative on the phone who speaks broken English? Have you ever felt frustrated that a company Christmas party was renamed a holiday party, simply to respect the religious diversity that exists in your organization's workforce?

To you, the things listed in the last paragraph may not represent resistance to diversity. They may simply represent your beliefs that people in your country should speak your language. It may represent your belief that this is a Christian country, and we should be able to openly celebrate Christmas. To you or to others you know, it may represent a move to "the left" and to becoming politically correct at all times. However, that is not the case. Let's take a look at American history and the occurrences in history that have made this country more diverse today than it ever has been.


The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 all but removed the previous national-origins quota system that limited the number of immigrants allowed from certain counties, and gave preference to western Europeans. It also removed the exclusion of Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans. As a result of this law, immigration started to increase dramatically.

In the 30 years after passage of this law, more than 18 million immigrants entered the country legally. This was at least three times the number of those admitted in the 30 years prior. Instead of coming from mostly western European countries, these immigrants came from all over the world. In the 1990s, for example, only 16 percent of immigrants were Europeans, while 31 percent were Asian. The largest number of immigrants came from Mexico (4.3 million) and the Philippines (1.4 million). This is a sharp contrast to the 1950s, where over half of the immigrants were European and only 6 percent Asian.

This change in immigration changed the makeup of our population forever, but it also changed the face of the workplace that you now deal with today. The people you work with today come from all different parts of the world. They have different beliefs, different methods of communicating, and maybe even speak different languages.

Life Expectancy and Retirement

Thanks to medical advances, we are all living a lot longer (on average) than our grandparents and other ancestors did. In 1960, the average life expectancy was 69.7 years. In 1980, it was 73.7 years. It was 77.0 years in 2000, and it was 78.7 in 2010. As you can see, our life expectancy keeps climbing. We are living longer.

However, because we're healthier and living longer, we're also remaining in the workforce longer. It's not unusual for healthy senior citizens to decide to stay in the workforce, because they want to keep working, or to increase the Social Security benefits they'll receive at retirement.

The age for collecting Social Security benefits at retirement has risen from 65 years of age to 67 (if you were born in 1960 or later), with delayed retirement credits for those who delay collecting benefits until age 70. Although you can still retire and collect benefits at the age of 62, there are penalties for collecting before the full retirement age that has been established by the Social Security Administration. For a lot of senior citizens, this may mean staying in the workforce longer than their parents and grandparents did in order to retire more comfortably.

Women in the Workplace

Women started to enter the workforce during WWII. However, even as recently as 50 years ago, most families were still single-income households where the husband worked, and the wife stayed home to raise the family. However, that's changed in today's modern world.

With the cost of living continually on the rise, it's more common now for women to have a career, than it is for them to stay home to raise the family. In fact, according to an article published by Forbes, 75.2 percent of women are active in the workforce today. These women are taking on management roles, rising to the top of corporations, and even becoming leaders in our government.

Take a look at these facts from the U.S Department of Labor regarding women in the workforce (2010):

  • Women comprise 47 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

  • Women will account for 51 percent of the increase in workforce growth between 2008 and 2018.

  • 66 million women are employed in the U.S.

  • 40.6 percent of employed women held positions in management, professional, and related jobs.

  • In 2010, the unemployment rate for women was 8.6 percent. It was 10.5 percent for men.

Equal Opportunity Laws

There are several federal laws in existence today to promote fairness in hiring and employment, therefore, preventing discrimination against someone due to their gender, religious beliefs, age, etc. These laws were created to give everyone a chance to succeed in the workplace and their careers, as well as to make sure that someone's differences aren't used as a reason to turn them down for a job they are otherwise qualified for, to pay someone less, or to treat them differently than any other employee.


Because the workforce is more diverse than ever before, sensitivity training is a critical aspect of career training. That said, understanding why sensitivity training is needed is the first step to becoming more sensitive to your own feelings, beliefs, and values, as well as to those around you in your organization.

Recognizing Differences and Behavior by Looking Inward

We are all different. We are all individuals, which means that no two of us are the same. It's easy to assume that because this is a course on sensitivity, we're only talking about sensitivity as it relates to people from different cultures, of a different gender, with a disability, or any other large group that's considered different from "us." But let's ask the question, "Who is 'us'?" Even better, "Who are you?"

Recognizing We're All Different

Let's say it again. We are all different. You may have different political beliefs than the person sitting next to you at work. You may have different fashion styles. One of you may be overweight and a big fan of junk food, while the other is a fitness buff. One of you may be in a different type of social circle, or a different financial picture. The differences between two people can be endless; however, even with someone who seems basically the same as you, there are still differences. It's when we become sensitive to the differences in each of us, that the workplace becomes a more positive place, and we all succeed to a higher level than we otherwise would.

That said, there are some differences we can easily overlook in the workplace. Some of those types of differences are listed above.They are differences we're accustomed to facing in the workplace, and ones that we've learned to be sensitive to over the course of our lifetime. Most of us learned as children not to make comments that would hurt or offend someone who's overweight – or too skinny. We also know it's not appropriate in the workplace to discriminate against someone because of their social circle or financial status.

However, the workforce today is much more diverse than it used to be. We all have to learn to be sensitive to each other, and to our differences, to create a positive work environment. As was said in the first lesson of this course, it isn't about tip-toeing around certain groups or being politically correct. It isn't even about agreeing with the aspects that make an individual or group different. It's about recognizing your own feelings, beliefs and values, then understanding theirs – and vice versa. The bottom line is it all boils down to understanding and respect. In the workplace today, those things aren't optional; they are mandatory for your own success, as well as that of your team and organization.

Your Views on Different People and Ways of Thought

The truth is that the majority of people see themselves as open-minded, non-judgmental, and/or fair. We don't see ourselves as biased, or as holding up stereotypes to certain types of people or certain groups. However, we do. It can't be helped. We're human beings, and it's sadly normal to feel more comfortable around people who share your feelings, beliefs, and values -- or even those who look, talk, or act like you – than those who don't.

That said, looking inward to discover your views on different people and their ways of thought is the first step to becoming more sensitive to others in the workplace. However, since a lot of these views lie in your subconscious, you might not even be aware they exist. Discovering them will take getting in tune with your thoughts and becoming aware of associated behaviors.

For now, it's important to realize that the subconscious views you have about other people or other groups will affect the way you behave around them. It doesn't mean you're a bigot or racist, and it doesn't mean you're close-minded. Chances are, the way your parents raised you, your religion, and your environment all affected the way you think today and shaped your views. Those views have been a built-in part of you for so long you don't even know they exist.They become just as big a part of you as the muscles in your body. Just as your muscles work together to produce strength and movement, your views come together to produce your words, behaviors, and general thoughts toward another person or group. It's in starting to recognize them that you can start to understand them – and other people.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Sensitivity Training for the Workplace course?

Taking a Look at How Others See You

You may be the type of person who says they don't really care what other people think. In truth, though, we all care on some level -- especially in the workplace, where how people see us can affect opportunities, promotions, and the like. Being able to step back and learn how other people see you can also help you become more sensitive to others. Perhaps you see yourself as holding certain values and exhibiting behavior that matches those values, but others don't see that in you.

In order to learn how other people see you, it's necessary to step back and analyze yourself. However, it can also be extremely eye-opening if you remain honest and objective. Let's walk through the aspects of your life that can influence your success with co-workers in the workplace.

1. Emotional aspect . The emotional impression you give to your co-workers will directly affect the way they see you. You may think you're compassionate, helpful, and kind, but do the people around you see you in the same way? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do my co-workers seek me out to help them with issues that arise, or am I a last resort?

  • Do my co-workers regularly invite me to share lunch, attend after-work events, etc.?

  • Am I a go-to person for my co-workers, or do they seek out someone else when they need help, or want to talk?

If you're comfortable with it, ask a co-worker these questions as they relate to you.

2. Values . Ask yourself if your actions, behavior, and language support your values. Do your co-workers look at you and say your values show by the way you behave around others? What you claim to be, and who you appear to be to others, can be very revealing. Again, if you want, ask a friend or co-worker what they think your values are. Tell them some of your values, and ask them if they see those values reflected in your behaviors. You can also watch your co-workers to see if your values are reflected in their interaction with you. Are people who share similar values seeking you out for companionship or friendship in the workplace (such as sharing lunch), or are those people seeking others out? This may be a clue that how you perceive yourself is different from how others see you.

3. Are you reasonable ? Do others view you as a reasonable person? Do you have a balanced reaction, even when you don't get your way? Do you present convincing reasoning even when others disagree with you on an issue? In other words, do people understand and respect your side of issues even though they may not agree? Watch others and their reactions to you. Watch your own reactions. You may consider yourself a reasonable person, but you're the first person complaining to your colleagues at work because someone disagreed with you, or because you didn't get your way.

It's important to remember that human beings, by default, are mirrors. If you want to learn how other people view you, then view them as they interact with you. For example, if co-workers come to you with gossip or to back-stab other co-workers, it may be because they see you as the same way. If they come to you when money needs to be raised for another sick co-worker, or if they want to bounce an idea off you that has nothing to do with your job description, then they may see you as helpful, kind, and compassionate.

Analyzing Your Behavior

It goes without saying that you should treat everybody in the workplace in the same manner with the same amount of respect. It is certainly not assumed in this course that you would do anything less. However, with that said, your behavior around different types of people can give others with the impression that you're less than respectful of certain groups or types of people.

There are four types of behaviors that affect how other people view your treatment of them and/or your reaction to them. Inappropriate behavior can make you appear insensitive and disrespectful. It can make someone uncomfortable being around or dealing with you, and it can also lead to more serious actions such as charges of discrimination or harassment.

Let's talk about the four types of behavior in the workplace. They are tone of voice, word choice, body language, and interpersonal decisions.

Some examples of tone of voice are:

  • Sarcastic

  • Curious

  • Humorous

  • Sympathetic

  • Neutral

  • Impatient

  • Tired

  • Patronizing

  • Casual or formal

If your tone of voice is impatient when dealing with a non-native English speaker in the workplace, but is neutral when dealing with a native English speaker when requesting the same information or task under the same circumstances, your behavior can be viewed as disrespectful or inappropriate. It also effects how others see you.

Some examples of word choice are:

  • Girl

  • Lady

  • Boy

  • Spouse, husband, or wife

  • Partner

  • Or using slang or curse words

Body language is part of your behavior. It can reflect your mood and how you feel about a person. It can also show lack of respect.

Some examples of body language are:

  • Not knocking on a door – or knocking on a door

  • Staring

  • Not making eye contact

  • Rolling your eyes

  • Tapping your fingers

  • Hugging

  • Laughing

  • Touching inappropriately

  • Smiling

  • Shrugging

It should go without saying, but a male rubbing a female's shoulders (or vice versa) is inappropriate behavior. It can also become sexual harassment. Tapping your fingers on the desk shows impatience, while rolling your eyes dismisses someone or what they say as irrelevant, silly, or not worth your time. It doesn't always mean you're discriminating against someone, of course, and it doesn't mean you don't respect them (or their values, beliefs, or feelings); however, it can be construed that way when these behaviors are repeated and become part of how other people see you, even if that's not who you think you are.

It doesn't just apply to tone of voice, word choice, or body language though. It also applies to the interpersonal decisions that you make. Including or excluding certain people from social events, encouraging only certain people to apply for new opportunities, and not using someone's professional title when you use it for others that have earned the same title – these things can also be seen as disrespectful, insensitive, and sometimes even illegal.

Discovering What Influences Behavior

It's these thoughts and values that can play a part in, and directly influence, our behavior. These thoughts and values stem from your cultural background, personal life experiences, sexual orientation, religion, age, ethnicity, and even gender.

However, the type of relationship you have with different people, and the situation you find yourself in when a certain behavior occurs, also plays a part. Of course, your behavior will be slightly different when around friends, supervisors, peers, other professionals, or around those you have a personal relationship with. The situation will influence it, as well. Naturally, your behavior will be different in social settings than it might be at work. Your emotional state can also influence your behavior.

In the workplace, you need to focus on your behavior. Your supervisors and management monitor your behavior, as well, and they use what they've learned from your behavior to judge your attitude and beliefs. Your co-workers and peers do the same to learn what type of person you are. It defines how they "see" you.

Always remember these rules for behavior in the workplace:

  • Be flexible whenever possible.

  • Acknowledge co-workers, either verbally or non-verbally.

  • Share information with everyone, not just those "in your group."

  • Use professional language. Avoid slang or curse words.

  • Disagree in a professional manner, without insulting or offending. Disagree by presenting your side of the issue, backed up by the facts as you see them.

  • Acknowledge other people's perspectives verbally.

  • Don't interrupt when being spoken to.

  • Speak with a moderate tone.

Remember that you don't have to agree with someone else's views, beliefs, or feelings to co-exist in the workplace. Just because you disagree, doesn't mean your behavior should reflect your feelings. If we've learned nothing in this course, we've learned that we're all different. You don't have to handle anyone with the proverbial gloves on, but in the diverse workplace, it's essential to develop skills and strategies to work with everyone and to be sensitive – and not offensive or insulting through behavior – to other people's feelings, views, and beliefs.