Employees Love J.D. Irving, Limited’s DEI Training. Here's Why.
Jessica Madia, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), used Skillsoft content to build a highly accessible — and wildly popular — DEI certificate program.
The business benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are well established. It's one of the top factors people consider when deciding whether to stay with their current company or move to a new employer. At the organizational level, businesses with the most mature DEI efforts gain market share faster and are more likely to beat their revenue projections, according to research from TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group.
But getting a DEI program off the ground is no small feat. Even when organizations make it a priority, it can be hard to get results. The TechTarget research mentioned above found that, although 89 percent of surveyed organizations were actively implementing DEI strategies, only 13 percent had achieved DEI maturity.
According to TechTarget, one of the biggest obstacles to DEI maturity is a lack of widely accessible DEI education. Without regular, widely available training on subjects like understanding others' experiences and overcoming unconscious biases, the report says, a DEI program won't have a "truly transformational impact."
This is a fact that Jessica Madia, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI), knows quite well.
"Accessibility is so important," Madia says. "We often see folks in DEI start with training leaders first, and they wait for it to trickle down as budget allows. But the biggest impact happens when you create foundational learning for everybody."
When Madia joined JDI in 2020, she set out to create just such a DEI training program. The result: a wildly popular DEI certificate program that has helped JDI earn the Employer Diversity Award from Atlantic Business Magazine for two years running.
And Madia did it all without having to request a bigger budget. Instead, she creatively used the resources JDI already had on hand.
Here's how she did it.
A DEI Certificate Program for Everyone
Madia had a clear goal for the DEI training program at JDI. She wanted to empower employees at all levels across the organization to make a difference and push DEI goals forward.
"What was really important for me was driving that baseline education on DEI," Madia explains. "I fundamentally believe that if everyone in our business took part in the program, it would raise the level of awareness. People would truly understand the importance of DEI, and that would lead to meaningful action."
JDI was already using Skillsoft's content library and AI-powered learning platform, Percipio, for other training initiatives. When a colleague told Madia that Skillsoft had DEI courses available, she decided to check them out.
While Madia was skeptical that off-the-shelf DEI training would have the effect she wanted, she was pleasantly surprised to find that Skillsoft's content differed from what she had expected.
"Once I audited the courses, I thought it was fantastic," Madia says. "What makes all the difference are those roundtable discussions where you get to be a fly on the wall as people share their lived experiences. You're not just logging in to have somebody talk at you. You get to listen and understand their perspectives."
Madia's next move was to make this content more accessible and approachable to employees, so she curated five of the most relevant courses into a custom DEI channel in Percipio. Madia also built promotions directly into employees' Percipio homepages so everyone would know exactly how to find the DEI channel.
"We make it so that, when people log into Skillsoft, the first thing they see is a banner that says, go to our DEI channel," Madia explains. "And when we add additional courses, we add another flag that says new courses available. We want it to be really easy to get to."
To motivate learners to take the courses, Madia built in a reward: anyone who completed all five would receive a DEI certificate as proof of their accomplishment.
"It's something to be proud of," Madia says. "That really entices people."
It worked. Employees liked that they could earn a real credential to certify their new knowledge, and teams began celebrating their certificate earners in special ceremonies.
"When we had our first full team do the program, we put together a company-wide campaign to celebrate them as the first team to be certified as a group," Madia says. "Other teams started their own traditions too, like turning it into an event where the manager hands out certificates publicly."
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The Program's Results
JDI's DEI certificate program has now expanded to include seven courses. To date, more than 1,200 employees have engaged with the material for a total of 4,400 course completions, and 500 of those employees have earned their DEI certificates.
The DEI courses are among the top Skillsoft courses completed by JDI employees, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Individual business units in JDI have fully embraced the program, with some building it into their development goals.
“There are a lot of different ways folks are interacting with the content,” Madia explains. “Business units have taken it in their own directions and put their own spin on things. Some have made it an objective for all their leaders to complete the program by the end of the year. Some business units are doing the program together as a lunch and learn series."
In one division, the general manager has a conversation with every employee who earns the certificate. They discuss the importance of allyship and strategize ways to put what the employee has learned into practice.
The courses have also piqued employees' interest in other learning opportunities, and many seek out additional Skillsoft content after completing the DEI program. This increased engagement makes it easier for Madia to identify candidates for further DEI training.
"It builds a population that is really interested and engaged on this subject," Madia says. "When new learning opportunities come my way, I know who to connect to them."
What Made JDI's DEI Certificate Program Such a Success?
While every organization is unique and DEI training programs are not a one-size-fits-all matter, there are some tips DEI leaders can pick up from Madia. Three factors, in particular, contributed to the success of JDI's program:
1. Accessibility and Engagement
Madia made it easy for people to find and participate in the DEI channel by delivering the content through a platform that employees already used for other training. Madia also promoted all the different ways to take the courses — via desktop, laptop, or mobile device — so that learners could consume content in the ways that work best for them.
"It was a great opportunity to create some foundational awareness across our business by leveraging a tool that everybody had access to, which was really important," Madia says.
Offering certificates to employees who completed the program provided extra motivation and boosted engagement by giving learners a tangible reward for their efforts.
2. Great Content
Skillsoft's DEI content is grounded in real stories from real people rather than abstract hypotheticals or long, dull lectures. Participants can see how the course content relates to the real world, making it easier to retain — and apply — the lessons they learn.
"It gives people the opportunity to hear about the lived experiences of people they may not have in their own personal networks," Madia says. "And, regardless of where you're at on your DEI journey, everybody is walking away with at least one thing they can do differently."
3. Leveraging Existing Resources
Even when DEI is a priority for organizations, it can be difficult to dedicate more resources to DEI training efforts — especially in uncertain economic times. But Madia didn't need any extra resources. Instead, she found a way to deploy resources the organization already had. This made it much easier for Madia to win buy-in and support from leaders across JDI.
"Any time a business leader is asked to leverage an existing resource to improve the overall effectiveness of a program and raise education on an important topic, that's going to be an easy yes," Madia says. "I was not asking for anything. I was not creating anything labor-intensive for anyone."
Madia plans to keep growing program engagement and enabling more learners to earn DEI certificates. Her goal for 2023 was to double the number of certifications awarded, and she reached it in July.
Madia also hopes to expand DEI efforts further by creating employee resource groups so people inside JDI can start holding their own listening sessions similar to those presented in Skillsoft's courses.
"I think the DEI certificate program is a really nice gateway to employee resource groups," Madia says. "So we're going to leverage what we've learned to make that a reality."