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Rethinking Inclusivity

There are some things that trainers say that can unintentionally make learners feel left out.

Every year my kids’ school has spirit week where they are encouraged to dress in themed clothing for each day of the week. As a person who facilitates activities for a living, I’m a good sport about most things that serve a purpose and cause no harm. Up until this year, I’ve taken no issue with the silly shenanigans of Crazy Hair Day and putting my children in backward clothing.

This year, however, I’ve observed a lot of anxiety over one spirit day that has me thinking about the inclusiveness of activities. Every year the school has “twin day” where students find a classmate to be their twin and they dress alike. This is a cute idea in theory, and the easy solution for my kids is to dress like each other as they are both girls and close enough in age. Many other families do not have that option, and I heard a lot of grumblings about what was intended to be an inclusive activity actually excluding several students should they not be chosen to be a twin or not able to afford to buy the same clothes as their friends.

I tell you this story because I want to demonstrate that being inclusive is a deliberate act, and if it isn’t well thought out, it can have the opposite effect. Activities need to be inclusive at as many levels as possible, let’s look at a couple of red flags that can isolate participants in training sessions.

Using Exclusive Phrases Like “We All Know”

Individuals come to training with their own background, depth of experience, etc. Using words like “we all know” or making an assumption about the group, unless there is a technical skill required of their job, is a bad idea. I would include jargon in this bucket as well, nothing is more frustrating than being in a room full of people using jargon and acronyms with which you are not familiar.

Putting People in a Box

People tend to make assumptions based on a few facts they know about a person, especially when they have spent a few hours in a training room with them. I’ve heard these more often than I’m comfortable with: “obviously you are kind of a computer geek” or “clearly you are fairly athletic”. Even when you think it is a compliment, don’t put people in a box, it is isolating.


Gatekeeping is when someone decides who has access or rights to a community, sort of like a gatekeeper. Trainers do this with new tools or cutting edge technologies by saying things like: “You probably haven’t heard of it yet, but you will,” or “The new tool everyone younger than you is using.” Marketers love to use this to gain interest in a new product, but it has no place in training.

What are some other ways add more inclusivity to your training activities? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

Looking for some help in pushing forward a training initiative? Need an extra set of hands to design an engaging (and inclusive!) professional development program before the summer hits? Drop us a line and let’s talk about how we might be able to help!

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