Create inclusive training programs for diverse staff and foster workplace belonging

Written by Briony Frost, Learning & Development Specialist on Friday 2nd July 2021

The healthcare industry serves a global market comprised of diverse organisations, practitioners, payers, and patients, and training must do the same. So how can you design your training programmes to support diversity, inclusion, and belonging across the broad spectra of cognitive, physical, and cultural identities among your learners?

Diversity, inclusion, and belonging and why they matter in the workplace

Diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DI&B – US) or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI – UK) are increasingly common terms used to describe a set of values and practices that should be embedded into any twenty-first century workplace. They form part of a broader agenda of social justice, economic sustainability, and corporate social responsibility. But what do the terms actually mean for the modern workplace?

Diversity focuses on the recognition and incorporation of difference at all levels of a professional workforce, from senior decision-makers to entry-level staff. Look around your company. For instance, if all the senior managers belong to a single demographic, such as straight, white, able-bodied men or there are only one or two ‘token’ individuals who do not, then there is likely to be some work to be done on integrating a broader range of perspectives.

From a business standpoint, diversity brings financial and performance benefits. Statistics, such as those from the 2015-2018 McKinsey reports that gathered data from numerous large companies across 15 countries, show that companies with higher proportions of gender-diversity at executive level outperform those with lower ratings by up to 48%. Those with ethnic and cultural diversity show similar patterns.[i] Surveys done on workplaces that endeavour to include those with physical or cognitive disabilities also show distinct improvements in quality and efficiency of service, with disabled workers notably bringing creativity and problem-solving skills into the workforce.[ii] Being willing to engage in flexible working practices to support disabled employees – a task facilitated in many ways by enhanced digital working strategies required to adapt to the pandemic – allows companies to draw on these skills, which can not only enhance productivity and drive revenue acquisition, but also combat shrinking talent pools and an aging workforce.

Inclusion relates to the valuing, enabling, and promotion of individual differences – no matter their background, identity or circumstances – so that everyone is able to thrive at work. Inclusive workplaces encourage people to be their whole selves fairly and safely, supported by the culture, policies, and practices in place to enable a diverse professional community to work together effectively.

Workplace inclusion has benefits not only for individuals but for the organisation too, with reports repeatedly finding that positive working relationships, job satisfaction, commitment to the company, and increased productivity are direct effects of working in inclusive environments. Innovation and creativity, as well as better appraisals of client/consumer interests and demand rises by up to 59% and decision-making breaks out of groupthink with better quality results and products emerging. Crucially, organisations with inclusive business cultures and practices are investing in marked reputational improvements, with employees and consumers likely to engage and stay engaged with the company.[iii]

Belonging is the sense of security individuals feel when they are accepted, supported, and included within a workplace community that recognises, values, and cares for them as their whole and authentic selves.

In addition to the human costs to individuals and groups, exclusion in the workplace disadvantages the organisation.[iv] BetterUp, a US based organisational solutions group focusing on behavioural science reported that in a nationwide survey, employees with a high sense of belonging take up to 75% fewer sick days, see a 56% increase in job performance, and have a 50% lower turnover rate than those who are excluded – figures that save organisations millions in productivity, hiring costs, and retained revenue.[v] Like diversity and inclusion, belonging isn’t just an ethical agenda, it’s an economic one too.

How can I integrate diversity, inclusion, and belonging into my training programmes?

Diversity, inclusion, and belonging benefit all staff, not just those who need legal adjustments. To enable a diverse workforce to succeed, and maximize the potential of all your employees, your training needs to be diverse and inclusive and promote belonging too. Increasingly, legal requirements are growing for companies to embed equality and diversity into their training programs as well as their workplace policies and cultures to ensure equal opportunities are available to all. It is worth noting that the UK and EU are increasingly strict on this, which is a consideration for healthcare companies who work with, for, or within the EMEA region. Here are eight tips for making sure your training is inclusive:

  1. Know your audience – we talk a lot about needs analyses as part of the process of devising a training programme. Early consultation with your learners and stakeholders can give valuable insights into the backgrounds, circumstances, and identities of your staff, HCPs, and patients. While key knowledge-training may (or may not!) stay consistent across these groups, different analytic, behavioural, and communication skills may be needed to convey essential information in unique multinational contexts, such as the efficacy and safety-profile of a vaccine in a region where healthcare practitioners and vaccines in particular may be viewed with suspicion.
  2. Use inclusive instructional design[vi] and universal design models – there are various examples of good learning design readily available to support the development of your curriculum and training programme. Ranging from choices of technology through platforms and devices, through how content is chunked, organised, and presented to making reasonable adjustments for individuals, avoiding stereotypes and decolonising resources, and fostering a sense of community and support, there is good advice and guidance around how to make your learning programme more accessible and equitable – for the benefit of all your learners.
  3. Deliver information flexibly – technology is a valuable asset in this space according to digital solutions experts JISC, with opportunities to adopt:
    1. New techniques and technologies for the benefit of inclusive learning
    2. Employ more remote or on-demand learning content to extend access to learners who cannot easily participate in face-to-face training scenarios
    3. Create flexible formats so that materials can be made available in preferred forms or those that are compatible with assistive learning technologies
    4. Use inclusion, diversity, and belonging health-checkers to assess the quality of your current provision and refine it, as well as software that can flag and advise on amends that can be made to resources that are not yet accessible, such as background and font colours, use of effective alt.text, and so on
    5. Improve future consultation on effective course design between learners, funders, and facilitators [vii]
  4. Provide a range of strategies for assessment and interactivity – a good needs analysis and clear measurable intended learning outcomes are essential for helping to determine what needs to be assessed in your program and how. Inclusive assessment strategies that enable learners to be tested using different formats and mechanisms as standard (e.g. presenting via a virtual medium instead of face-to-face) can save time making individual adjustments and offer other learners the opportunity to experiment with different formats too. Lots of great research is being done into how to create inclusive assessment approaches in higher education environments that can be adapted effectively to healthcare training programs.[viii]
  5. Seek information, feedback, and advice – read, listen, watch, and deepen your understanding of the experiences of historically marginalised groups within your industry. Don’t rely on those groups or individuals to educate you, but do offer opportunities for all your learners to discuss difficulties they encounter with their training programs and to articulate and seek solutions to barriers to training, especially if they come from these groups. If you have the opportunity to gather information from patient groups too, this will really help you to think about the contexts in which your learners are working and how this needs to be accommodated.
  6. Choose your language carefully – whether it’s enabling your learners to select their preferred pronouns when they’re addressed via a chat-bot, providing systems to enable learners to call-out problematic behaviour in group sessions, using clear accessible language when delivering information, or keeping a close eye on how language works in translation so that you do not inadvertently exclude international colleagues or consumers, words are a powerful way of creating cultures of belonging in your workplace and your training programs.
  7. Don’t generalise about adjustments – learners from the same backgrounds and circumstances, ethnicities, genders, and with disabilities are not homogenous groups but distinct individuals with unique needs and preferences. While certain types of inclusive adjustments can be grouped and made for the benefit of all learners (such as not using PDFs or making sure you include captions with any audio), individuals may still have specific requirements in order to be able to succeed in their training. Make sure you create opportunities to ask and to have these put in place on an individual basis.
  8. Communicate and provide support – alongside language, clear communications, concrete expectations, and pro-active support systems are among your greatest allies when producing training programmes that are inclusive for diverse learners and that foster cultures of belonging. Make sure you develop clear set learning outcomes at the outset, establish and use a strong communications plan, and ensure there are designated people available to support learners who encounter any difficulties with their learning experience, whether it be with the technology, the content, or their personal and professional circumstances.

Developing truly inclusive training programmes where all your diverse staff feel like they are supported and able to participate fully takes time, effort, and engagement, but the payoffs are manifold – psychologically, financially, sustainably, and ethically – and will benefit not just your most valuable asset, your team, but your whole organisation.

1 Dixon-Fyle S, K Dolan, V Hunt, S Prince. Diversity Wins: how inclusion matters. 2020. Available at:

2 Pratt L. The benefits of disability diversity in the workplace” 2018. Available at:

[iii] Why diversity and inclusion matter, 2020. Available at:

[iv] Fraser-Thrill R. Belonging at work is essential. Forbes. 2019. Available at:

[v] The Value of Belonging at Work: new frontiers for inclusion in 2021 and beyond. Available at:

[vi] Gropper G.L. Inclusive Instructional Design. Educational Technology 2015:;55:3:3-13. Available at:

[vii] Advance HE. Generic considerations of inclusive curricula. 2011. Available at:

[viii] McInnes et al. What’s it worth? JISC Techdis HEAT. 2009. Available at:

OPEN Health’s L&D team brings together wealth of diverse staff with unique skill sets, healthcare training and communications experience. We are committed to inclusion, diversity, and belonging in all our working practices and constantly strive to better both ourselves and our services. If you would like to hear more about how can help you create bespoke, competitive training programs that reflect the diversity of your workforce and global market, please get in touch.

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