Your experience and opinions on sensitivity training or other solutions to workplace intolerance

We have to fix some attitudes here at work.

We have a very multicultural make up, with multiple ethnicities, faiths, backgrounds. We have not had much difficulty in that area.

We currently have at least three team members that are LGBTQ that I am aware of. This is not open knowledge, I one other person who is aware of some, I don’t know anyone else.

We had a very strong willed team member a couple years ago that openly announced their intent to transition and their preference for a change in name and gender. This was generally met with respectful acceptance and I only had to gently remind team mates a few times on appropriate phrasing. That person moved on a couple years ago. Some people here now are much more vulnerable.

Two of my coworkers and intended partners (we are in a slow process of taking over the business from the current owner). Have recently made a few comments about gender identity that were hurtful, twice in an office setting which was bad enough but also once in our morning staff meeting which was much worse. The instances were met with immediate correction from either myself or another manager.

The immediate need is to remind these two managers of our human rights requirements as an employer. This a minimum standard required by provincial labour regulations.

With human frality well in mind, we have discussed sensitivity training. I am the boss and final authority but also by far the dominant personality here. I would prefer to see a deeper understanding achieved than just the recognition of my authority and force of will.


Everyone would prefer that everyone understand everyone else, but I fell the need need to point out that some people only understand authority and force of will. Such people can be reminded that it’s one thing to feel homophobic, racist, superreligious, antireligious or whatever, but when it crosses into action or speech in the workplace, there’s a line they must not cross.

A properly designed sensitivity training course may help them understand that (along with some idea of basic respect for another human). If not, it’s up to you.

Unfortunately this is the best you can do in some cases. Some people refuse to treat other human beings like human being because (insert bigoted reason here). You are not going to change their mind but you can get them to the point of “Be a professional and do your job properly.”

One option might be to require all managers, yourself included, to attend a training course on it, to make the point to them all that respect is particularly required from managers, because of provincial human rights and labour law.

Don’t keep it a secret from the staff. It’s a good message to send to the staff that the managers themselves are getting training on the issue.

If you go that route, choose the course provider carefully. Ask around from colleagues in other businesses for recommendations.

(There was one fiasco recently in Ontario where the sensitivity course providers were so dogmatic and non-sensitive that one of the managers attending later committed suicide.)

I see a real red flag here.

Intended partner implies ownership interest. IOW they can’t be fired if they refuse to comply w the law and with the even higher behavior standards that lead to a happy diverse workforce.

If my understanding is correct, you need to sever the partnership before they make you personally liable for violations they will inevitably cause.

If you can fire them you can contain or repair the damage. If not, then not.

I once dealt with a similar problem business partner with a similar personality defect. The issue wasn’t bigotry or DEI, but it was equally illegal and equally intractable.

Much blood and treasure was spent before the business divorce was finalized.

DANGER Will Robinson! DANGER!!!

People already inclined to believe in what the class teaches will continue to believe in it. People who don’t will resent it as woke indoctrination. Few minds will be changed.

But the important part is the company is now protected from all of you.

No amount of training, sensitivty or otherwise, will do a lick of good without management making it clear that this is a priority for the company. What that means is asking employees how they feel about the current state of things, asking what can be improved, and following through by making those improvements where possible. It also means taking action when employees say or do things that might constitute harrassment. i.e. If you have an employee who refuses to address someone by their preferred gender, you need to be prepared to displine them.


From my IDE training:

If you implement equity efforts in the organization but don’t hold people accountable, employees will lose trust in the sincerity of your commitment and may dismiss it as performative, which is a key contributor to turnover.

It is related a lot on how women do see as progress.

But we can still develop best practices that allow us to both evaluate and grow belonging in our organizations. The first best practice is assessment. Employee engagement surveys can take a baseline pulse on whether people are feeling like they belong at the organization, and the root causes for any exclusionary feelings. Belonging is critical to the business case because it powerfully impacts productivity and turnover, both of which have been proven to have high cost to your team and organization. These surveys will often capture anecdotes that may otherwise not be intuitive to leaders. I facilitated a training on microaggression for a small company in Silicon Valley, and the sole woman on the leadership team shared that when she’s copied on emails, people frequently assume she’s the admin and follow up with her for scheduling requests. The CEO was shocked and shared that he had no idea these kinds of things happen to her. These aha moments go a long way to encouraging organizations to regularly hold conversations about inclusion and belonging and to trust impacted communities who report experiencing bias, prejudice, or discrimination, and to proactively look for and interrupt that bias throughout the company. So what to do? This is an important decision for an organization to make around internal and external stances on equity. One way to evaluate this dilemma is to ask if you would tolerate this prejudice for more well-established discrimination practices such as sexual harassment. Now, we know that that behavior was tolerated for generations, but that eventually advocacy created laws to protect women. The impact of being supported in this way will make a huge difference to the way your employees feel, show up, and ultimately stay in the workplace. And that’s why belonging matters.
–Dereca Blackmon

The issue here is that only if a company does have the will to change is that while it is true that some minds will not be changed, once there a system of accountability, those that do not want to change are not going to get ahead.

You can try and impose your will and your views on your employees, but you may not get them all to start thinking like you. You can, however, require that everyone treat everyone else with respect in your work place, and require that all of them attend an annual training on respect in the work place. Anyone who doesn’t want to adhere to those very basic and easy to understand and easy to do principles is welcome to leave, but don’t kid yourself thinking your employees will develop a “deeper understanding” of these things.

Be professional at work. If you can’t be that, at a minimum don’t say those thoughts out loud. And if you must say those thoughts out loud, not only will be there repercussions, you need to shit can those toxic people.

It ain’t baseball and three strikes you’re out. Maybe one strike if you’re feeling generous, and 2nd time after being put on probation means you’re done. Of course, HR needs to be on board on the proper way in your jurisdiction so the company won’t be at risk if sued.

Sensitivity training can’t solve everything. But OTOH, it can’t hurt and might help. Why not?

As long as you dont think it is a magic band-aid.

Yeah, I agree with this and the general drift in other posts. “You can believe whatever you want in the privacy of your own thoughts, and when you’re outside the office with people unaffiliated with work, you can say and do anything you like (assuming it’s legal and doesn’t come back to have any effect on the company). But here, in the workplace, you will be a professional, and your words, choices, and actions will reflect our absolute expectation of mutually respectful treatment.”

But LSLGuy also brings up a legitimate concern. If you’re moving toward an actual partnership as your legal operating framework, that’s a very different situation compared to an employer-employee relationship. There’s very limited leverage over a partner.

I have worked with plenty of still bigoted people who have “passed” the regular sensitivity training courses. Even if they are able to contain the more obvious expressions of their bigotry, if they are in positions of power they will find plenty of more subtle ways to give vent to it. Personally, I think the idea that, “you can be a bigot on your own time but not at work,” is a pretty useless compromise.

We where supposed to have to training ‘Understanding/Avoiding Bias’ This was gonna be in a room with about 40 people.

I’m half deaf. I CANNOT hear in a situation like that. I emailed HR for some sort of alternative. Send me a .pdf of something. The head of my department did too. But apparently they are deaf to our emails. Never got a response.

Perhaps HR should take this class.

Sounds like an ADA “reasonable accommodations” violation. You might consider using that language in an email to them (and cc your private/personal email address to ensure you have an undeletable copy) the next time something like this comes up.

I’ve never been in a work situation where someone’s gender identity had anything to do with the work we were doing or how we interacted professionally, so I could care less about it. I’ll address them however they want to be addressed, and that’s the end of the story as far as I’m concerned. People who feel otherwise are the ones that need sensitivity training and, if their negative conduct continues, eventual termination.

I may have mentioned that. I don’t recall. I’ve certainly thought about it.

And it’s just stupid. That’s what bugs me. Do the people teaching this class not have it in written form? Or do they just ‘wing it’.

In any case, HR never responded to emails. Maybe they don’t care if I attend, which would be fine with me. I work from home, I’m going to retire in a few years.

“It can’t hurt” is one of those phrases that tempts fate, like “What could go wrong?” or “It can’t get any worse.” Did you see the Northern_Piper’s parenthetical remark in Post #4?

That said, my very non-expert opinion is that sensitivity training might indeed be helpful, or it might be a resentment-inducing waste of time and money, depending on how well the training is designed and how receptive people are to it.

This is a very big factor.

I’ve attended well-done DEI training and crap DEI training. Despite being personally favorably disposed to the ideas presented, the latter course tried very hard to make me want to kill the people responsible.