Leadership Support and Diversity Training

Key Takeaways:

  • Diversity training is an important component to ensuring equitable organizations.
  • Research suggests that leaders can play an important role in training effectiveness.
  • Specifically, when leaders are seen as supportive of training, employees place more value in it.

The Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping, put in place on September 22, 2020, bars all federal agencies and contractors from including any trainings that promote “race or sex stereotyping.” This is widely being interpreted as prohibiting diversity and inclusion training altogether.  At a time when racial unrest and tension is at an all-time high, it is counterintuitive to stop talking about diversity and inclusion; instead we should continue talking about how to rectify the situation.

Great! Let’s encourage (non-government) organizations to provide diversity and inclusion trainings — and to just generally keep up the conversation about the topic.

But what does this have to do with leadership? Isn’t this a training department issue?

Actually, this relates to leadership quite a bit.  Although leaders may not be the ones who are delivering training, their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors can have a strong effect on how effective training is — and whether or not it lasts.  Lots of research has looked at this. 

For instance, one study asked chemical plant workers at the beginning and end of their training about how much they intended to use the skills they learned in training once they return to their jobs[1].  They found that passive leadership did not have an effect on people’s intentions to use the knowledge and skills learned in training, but transformational leadership (a form of inspiring and highly motivating leadership) did have an effect. In other words, if an employee believes that their leader is inspiring and motivating, then they are likely to use the knowledge and skills they learned in training.

Another study looked at this as well and found a similar outcome; employees (this time community mental health clinicians) who believed their leaders endorsed training were more open to and engaged in the training[2]. However, this study when another step further and looked at the organizational level (not just the individual level); leadership support for training initiatives was related to the organization being rated as more ready for change.  This study also looked at the effect of leadership support on training longitudinally; they found that the effects were long-lasting and not just short-term.

Neither of these studies are about diversity and inclusion training, but the principle still applies.  If a leader is supportive of training, employees (and the organization) will follow.  In a previous post, I wrote about leaders valuing diversity and how that can have a trickle-down effect on employees; similarly, if a leader values diversity training, the rest of the organization will follow along.

Therefore, it is important not just for organizations to continue to promote diversity and inclusion training, but for leadership to be actively and vocally supportive of it as well. We live in challenging times, and a few training sessions are not going to fix all of our problems.  But they are one important piece in helping to support a more equitable and inclusive environment for all.


[1] Vignoli, M., Mariani, M. G., Guglielmi, D., & Violante, F. S. (2018). Leadership styles and self-efficacy in determining transfer intentions of safety training. Journal of Workplace Learning30(1), 65–76.

[2] Stanhope, V., Ross, A., Choy-Brown, M., & Jessell, L. (2019). A mixed methods study of organizational readiness for change and leadership during a training initiative within community mental health clinics. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research46(5), 678–687.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.