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Diversity Trainings Still Face Barriers, According To Research Team

Sam Balye
The international research team included Associate Professor of Marketing Samantha Cross with Iowa State University's Ivy College of Business. "The timeframe that we were doing [the research] required a lot of coordination on our part," Cross said about their global marketplace diversity research.

A team of international researchers, including one from Iowa State University, found diversity trainings within the marketplace still face many barriers to achieve their goals.

One of the largest barriers stems from a lack of common language and understanding. It’s establishing a common understanding of what “diversity training” means that many players in the marketplace haven’t done yet.

“Even though the nature of what you do may be different, there's still ways to have those conversations. And more importantly, if you articulated not just working towards the same goal, but articulated that these are shared goals, that in the end, these goals apply to everyone. I think that would help," Samantha Cross, ISU researcher and associate professor of marketing, said.

Cross said even though initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in the marketplace are well-intentioned, many lack a thorough understanding of what needs to be done.

Her team's research found many marketplaces need to examine their systematic approach to diversity, inclusion and engagement.

“And we talk about them that not just about promoting advancement for all marketplace participants, but being proactive and consistent about it. And those are two key things within our definition: that you need to be proactive and you need to be consistent," Cross said about diversity training.

The research focuses on diversity in a marketplace and how that affects consumers. Cross clarified a person isn't a consumer "just in the grocery store," but rather any place in which a person is receiving a value or a good. This could be in a store, a school or even a city with public resources.

Cross's research team is made up of people from all over the world, and she said there is a similarity between Iowa and places like South Africa, the United Kingdom and other European countries.

"I would say that Iowa, like everywhere else, is a work in progress. You know, there's a lot to be done. I think that we are all making progress. But there's still a lot to be done out there," Cross said.

In the paper, the researchers offer recommendations to improve diversity, inclusion and equity policies. Many of which are based on language.

They include developing a "shared view" of diversity based on personal experiences of stakeholders, taking a step back to look at systemic issues and formulating a network for communication. Even after those policies are put into place, Cross said it will still depend on the actual practitioners to ensure proper implementation.

The ISU researcher said she hopes these recommendations will help point stakeholders, like businesses and consumers, toward acknowledging internal challenges and eventually overcoming them on a local and national scale.

Legislation approved during the 2021 session put restrictions on the types of diversity training that could be offered by state and local governments and schools. It’s awaiting the Gov. Kim Reynolds' signature.

"Although the diversity and inclusion and equity sort of discussions have risen even more in the last few years, certainly doing this work for several years now and looking at diversity from all kinds of perspectives, whether it be under representation or just falling below the radar in terms of consumers, I would say sometimes one of the barriers could be that this could be seen more as a niche sort of work rather than something more prevalent. And I think that has changed," Cross said.

Because of the wide range of base locations, Cross said one other hurdle the group needed to overcome was virtual meetings, even before the pandemic. On the bright side, Cross said, she was plenty accustomed to virtual conversations when it became the norm for COVID-19 precautions.

The research team is currently working on launching a website for diversity and inclusion-engaged marketing (DIEM) content.