3 ways to make DEI training stick, according to a global DEI exec

Diversity, equity and inclusion programs seek to change human behaviors — and in order to do that, HR needs effective learning and development programs. But how does that work in practice?

Donnebra McClendon, global head of DEI at Dayforce


Donnebra McClendon, global head of DEI at human capital management company Dayforce, had a lot of guidance to offer on how to bring diversity in the workplace back to center stage. A key factor is upskilling and reskilling on these crucial subjects.

“I’m a teacher at heart,” McClendon told HR Dive. And because McClendon, founder of literacy nonprofit organization Leaders are Readers, has always been a teacher at heart, she understands that people learn in different ways — and have different learning priorities.

In the workplace, she advocates for all kinds of training and professional development, from microlearning to conferences.

“Ultimately we’re changing behaviors,” McClendon said of DEI learning. “You can’t change behaviors with a one-and-done mindset or one-and-done course.” 

“I have to give them something that is palatable — something that they can easily consume.”

Donnebra McClendon

Global head of DEI at Dayforce

A culture of learning can be facilitated by continuous programming. It’s why she sends “micro-learning lessons” that take five minutes or less to digest, in between quarterly DEI trainings. There is also evidence that continuous L&D improves the work experience as a whole.

One case study comes from the healthcare field, where a 2023 Relias report on training and staff development showed that 35% of workers experienced an improvement in workplace culture after DEI training.

Cultivating a culture of learning and focusing on respectful dialogue can create a cycle of growth and retention that benefits all staff and leads to persistent and noticeable improvements,” a behavioral health partner at Relias said in a statement. 

Tip 1: Tap into your co-workers’ competitive streak

For McClendon, one useful tactic is to gamify the learning and development materials. Working at a human capital management company, she said, “I work in a highly competitive space. Everybody here is competitive and I’m super competitive as well.” 

Trivia challenges and Internet scavenger hunts have proven fun for her workforce because those games can be especially thought-provoking, she said.

Tip 2: Keep it short (like attention spans)

McClendon said wryly, “I know the leaders in the organization don’t want to come sit with me every week for two, three or four hours at a time. They like me, but they probably don’t like me that much, right? So I have to give them something that is palatable — something that they can easily consume.” 

She may be on to something with short and sweet nuggets of DEI training: TalentLMS, in partnership with Vyond, noted in research that workers often multitask during L&D sessions. And while traditional sensibility may seek to cut down on split attention, one expert posited that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Sarah Cannistra, Fractional chief learning officer and L&D career coach, challenged the assertion that workers should “be glued to their seats” during training sessions. “In reality, human things are happening while people learn and that’s okay,” Cannistra said in the report.

DEI content must be engaging, McClendon added. 

“I try different ways to reach people. […] I don’t want to flood your inbox with stuff that you’re not going to read. I don’t want to host courses that you’re not going to come to. I’m a lifelong learner, but not everybody values education like that,” McClendon said.

Tip 3: Lean into psychological safety

Something McClendon seeks to do is invoke feeling without making it too personal. She told HR Dive that she seeks to achieve that through art and interactive games.

“I try not to ask people to share unless they’re comfortable sharing,” she said. “But I do think that creating a psychologically safe space — where people can share — really does promote places of inclusion and belonging. That’s what we strive for.”

McClendon said she ultimately tailors her L&D programming to specific issues: microaggressions, gender identity and so on. She’s open to hearing any suggestions managers have, she explained. 

“My goal is to give people what they need, not more of what I think they need,” she said. “And that makes them receptive to the learning process.”