What do you think of when you hear “DEI training?” Memories of mandated, awkward exercises with your co-workers? Or perhaps fear (of saying the wrong thing, hurting others, or being hurt yourself). Sadly, you’re not alone. The dominant image of DEI training is a serious, corporatized, or just plain uncomfortable endeavor. At UPD, we know there’s another way. The truth, buried beneath all the media depictions and debates, is that there is great joy in DEI work. It’s time to reset the narrative.

Let’s start by establishing what good DEI training isn’t. It isn’t a lecture series. It isn’t static. And most importantly, it isn’t an exercise in shame or guilt. Feelings of shame and guilt are barriers to personal growth. Good DEI work should deconstruct internal biases and create positive change within individuals, organizations, and communities. While it’s crucial to confront the reality of discrimination, bias, and privilege, it’s also necessary to focus on joy as much as possible, establishing an inclusive learning environment where participants feel comfortable to open up and be vulnerable. 

So how do you actually develop a joyful DEI learning session? Start by building trust. Clearly communicate to your participants that they will not be judged as a result of a lack of knowledge.  Be honest with your participants: this is hard stuff. You might feel uncomfortable at first. You might not know what to say. But you’re doing it anyway, and that–truly–is something worth celebrating. When the learning/growth process is framed as something joyful rather than marked by shame, participants are empowered to actively engage with the session. 

That word, celebration, will start to sound familiar. We view DEI learning sessions as vehicles for celebration: of our participants, their humanity, and their willingness to learn from one another. During our DEI coaching of adult educators in Massachusetts, some were surprised to discover we frequently utilized music in our sessions, encouraging dance and movement. Too often, DEI training stays in the head, without the experience of feeling or doing. Body movement–whether through breath work or dance–is a game changer, allowing participants a much-needed release from challenging subject matter. In other instances, we highlighted the achievements of marginalized groups within participants’ own communities. These aspects drove home an important message: diversity, understanding, and self-growth are beautiful things. Yes, even worth dancing about. 

Once trust and celebration have been effectively incorporated into the learning environment, a final crucial step involves personalizing the learning experience. One of the most profound joys of DEI work is the opportunity for genuine connection and understanding between individuals of different backgrounds and experiences. Our approach involves creating opportunities for participants to share their own stories and narratives in ways that acknowledge the humanity of every participant and celebrate the achievements of members of their communities. 

Incorporating joy into DEI learning opportunities doesn’t mean ignoring or minimizing the challenges that exist. Instead, it’s about broadening the narrative to focus on hope, resilience, and the collective journey toward the better outcomes that equitable organizations achieve. By infusing sessions with elements of positivity, creativity, and celebration, facilitators create stronger learning experiences that lead to deeper changes for individuals and organizations. 

Join us! Because DEI isn’t scary. In fact, it’s quite joyous.