It's Time For Mandatory Diversity Training


In my article on last year’s Chancellor’s Leadership Forum on Diversity and Inclusion, I wrote about a point of tension in which UCSF leadership was dismissive of the mental health concerns of an underrepresented student. This year, I want to highlight a topic that is often dismissed behind closed doors: mandatory training.

The 11th Annual Chancellor’s Leadership Forum on Diversity and Inclusion focused on the climate surrounding UCSF staff. You can find a recording and summary of the forum online. It is required viewing to give perspective of an oft-overlooked part of the UCSF community.

Sergio Saenz, Director of Recruitment and Retention in the School of Nursing and one of the forum’s panelists, voiced the concerns of underrepresented staff. He raised three main issues: the lack of diversity in management and leadership positions, the constant microaggressions against staff of color, and the feeling that staff are undervalued.

“Staff of color are definitely looking to see, hopefully, if there is more mandated training. Just as there is for cyber security and sexual harassment, perhaps around diversity and inclusion and climate as well,” Sergio said, speaking about microaggressions.

The audience met this statement with unprompted applause.

In an impassioned moment illustrating these grievances, one UCSF employee of 23 years became emotional as she talked about working for 12 years at Mission Bay as one of only two black employees on campus “who doesn’t wear a uniform.”

“I’ve been stopped like maybe five, 10 times, even outside the campus,” she said. “There’s an ongoing thing within my co-workers like, ‘You better make sure you wear your badge and have at least one white co-worker with you to verify what you say.’”

She said she also felt that her achievements were overlooked within her department.

“I’m the only one in my department to not be advanced. If I have 17 years in my department, and I have more experience than anyone else in my department, why am I one of the lowest paid?” she said. “It feels as though we are not valued.”

The applause and knowing murmurs during her outpouring made it obvious that her experience was one of many.

George Taylor, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion in the School of Dentistry, asked the panelists what they would say are the barriers to implementing mandatory training.

“I don’t know if there’s any specific barriers,” said Paul Jenny, Senior Vice Chancellor of Finance and administration.

Jeff Chiu, Vice President of Human Resources, added, “I don’t believe there is any particular barrier to implement this either.”

Then, I have to ask, why haven’t we tried to implement mandatory training?

Underrepresented staff, students, and faculty have complained for years about the lack of cultural competency and cultural humility of those around and above them, and it continues to be a mounting issue. One look at the compliance data on the Office of Diversity Website shows that allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination grow every year.

Whether the complaints are from an increase in reporting or an actual increase in incidents is irrelevant - that the raw numbers are as high as they are is damning enough. Saenz also notes that power dynamics often causes complaints from staff of color to go unreported.

Yet, despite these statistics and the recommendations from staff of color educated on the issue, higher administration appears to be reticent to pull the trigger on mandatory training. I heard these same calls for training a year ago, and they have probably been echoing for many more years before that.

The Office of Diversity and Outreach and some schools have developed excellent programming that tackles topics like unconscious bias, microaggressions, and building a more inclusive environment. But unfortunately, those who need it most are unlikely to seek out voluntary trainings.

And, considering that many transgressions often occur in private, we cannot rely on “diversity ambassadors” from initiatives like the Diversity and Inclusion Staff Certificate Program to catch and educate everyone that perpetuates discriminatory behavior. Administration might think that a “trickle down” approach of trained staff policing those around them might be effective, but we can’t operate without a foundation.

Or, they may point to the same statistics I’m using to justify mandatory training as a strike against it – indeed, we all must take mandatory sexual harassment training yet complaints continue to rise.

However, execution matters, and we can’t dismiss an idea based off a failed attempt. As well-intentioned and expertly constructed as online training can be, it’s impersonal and can be completed with nary a moment’s introspection.

What we can do is realize that when discussing issues regarding a person’s humanity, we should have in-person training. We need people to engage in the material and have difficult discussions in an environment that encourages self-reflection. A laptop screen is not that environment.

The Biomedical Sciences and Developmental and Stem Cell Biology programs had a recent success story in this respect. Students, faculty, and staff collaborated to create a “Sharpening Your Mentoring Skills” workshop last April, which was mandatory for all faculty taking in a graduate student this year.

Students provided survey data and case studies from graduate students indicating gaps in mentorship. Faculty and staff developed a framework for the workshop, and program administration sought outside resources capable of carrying out the training. The workshop, which included group discussion and sections on mentoring across gender and cultural differences, was viewed as valuable and constructive by the vast majority of faculty attendees.

My guess is that administration on the university-wide level might not be as willing to pull resources in the same way.

Contrary to popular belief, mandatory training does not have to be viewed begrudgingly as “just another thing to do.” The mentoring workshop was successful in part due to the immense buy-in from faculty, which could be attributed to the statistical data and careful language used in describing the program.

There is certainly no dearth of statistical data to justify training for cultural competency/humility at UCSF; we just have to be willing to face it.

The panelists did bring up one final, essential piece of the puzzle: that trainings are supplemented with tracking and accountability to ensure that they translate to day-to-day actions.

We need to do these things to measure the effectiveness of training and refine it to better serve the community, not to decide whether or not to throw out the idea of mandatory trainings altogether.

If we’re going to place diversity as a PRIDE value, it needs to be an integral part of our training, not some voluntary extracurricular.

When thinking about cost, should we focus on extra time inconveniences? Or, should we focus on how we address a lack of support for the underrepresented and a surplus of discrimination complaints?

As Rana Barar, Project Director at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, noted at the forum, “A mandate creates a level of importance for that content that elevates it.”

With that said, I think it’s about time we take diversity a little more seriously.