By Dr. Andrew Parsons, Integrative Mental Wellbeing Practitioner

As a UK practitioner and member of the Multicultural Competency Committee, I have firsthand experience working in cross-cultural, corporate and integrative oncology settings.  At first glance, these areas may seem quite diverse.  However, one thing that links them together is the concept of creating customized learning environments for their stakeholders.

Recently, the impact or benefits of multicultural training have been challenged in the academic (Noon, 2017) and mainstream press (Parveen, 2021: Robson, 2021).  Although required and/or one-time trainings are popular, they often lack the advantages of longer-term, ongoing learning.

Mike Noon in an article called Pointless Diversity Training took a sociological perspective on unconscious bias training (UBT) and raised a number of questions regarding the assumptions underlying the approach.  He was keen to “not challenge the laudable motive of removing the consequences of racial bias, but questions whether UBT is the appropriate solution for this particular problem.”  Noon also said, “one danger is that UBT is adopted as a quick-fix rather than the start of an ongoing and possibly lengthy process of reflection, discussion, and awareness-raising.

Writing about this topic in the UK Guardian, Nazia Parveen described the ineffectiveness of one-off trainings.  Highlighting experiences from senior leaders, psychologists, and behavioral scientists, she demonstrated the need to add to a one-off approach. “Data shared with the Guardian has revealed that – despite 81% of companies conducting unconscious bias training – there was diminishing confidence among leaders that it alone was enough to ensure a fair, consistent and effective process.

The question facing many organizations is how to best approach diversity training. David Robson continued the discussion in the Guardian.  He reviewed input from a number of specialists and summarized that, “While it is true that many schemes have ended in disappointment, some have been more effective, and researchers believe we should learn from these successes and failures to design better interventions in the future – rather than simply dismissing them altogether.

Robson outlined the shift from a “training intervention” to creating an ongoing learning.   Key aspects of these learning interventions include the use of understanding perspectives and creating a learning program that can be embedded into daily activities with space for reflection and goal setting.  Creating an environment that has diversity, equity and inclusion requires multiple training approaches with an emphasis on ongoing learning and development based on the needs and understanding of all level employees in the organization.

As practitioners, these are important considerations for ourselves and our clients.

Personally, I came across the Multicultural Competency Certificate (MCC) program in the fall of 2020 and decided to take it to expand my learning in a way that would support my practice.  The ethos of MCC is that our personal, multi-cultural competency is a dynamic learning state. It is a practice that requires regular attention and nourishment.  A learning mindset and application to everyday experiences are fundamental to this process.

The program touched on many of the solutions to the problems encountered by UBT.  It utilized shared case studies and encouraged me to develop real-life examples to help me practice the applications.  We explored different perspectives and lived-experience of people using an interactive multi-modal learning approach, which I implemented right away with my clients.  An introduction to the sophistication and simplicity of the Multicultural Wellness Wheel was another useful resource for my practice.

As a professional who often works cross-culturally, I realize that communication between groups can create a common source of tension and confusion.  In a very practical sense, one of the biggest benefits of the MCC program was a clear set of definitions and expectations that I now incorporate into my practice.

As a coach and facilitator, I often tell my clients that formal training is the first step in a learning program.  What really matters is to apply training into everyday activities and experiences.  An ongoing process of reflection and re-application is the catalyst for change and transformation.  Perhaps it is time to take a step back and reflect on how best to support converting training to learning in our practice?  There is no doubt that this is an important step in enabling change.