Ask HR: Can I Refuse to Attend My Company’s Diversity Training?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like him to answer? Submit it here.

I am on track to graduate next year with a degree in human resources. What are some things I should be doing to make my resume look good for a job in HR? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I might be a little biased, but I am happy to hear you’re considering a career in human resources! It’s a challenging but rewarding field where you can truly help shape the work and workplaces of the future. In fact, 87 percent of HR professionals report their work has been especially crucial to their employer since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

First, before you fill out any job applications or go on any interviews, I want you to consider this question: Why HR? If you can articulate during an interview how you want to impact the workplace in a meaningful way, you’ll likely be better positioned to secure a job.  

With the above in mind, I have a couple of tips to help bolster your resume and prepare for a future HR career:

  • If possible, attend virtual HR events and trainings. You do not have to be an HR professional to network or complete programs—many may be open to students like you. Not only can you get a wealth of information, but this is also a fantastic way to start building connections and solidifying your network within the HR community—giving you a competitive edge over other recent graduates. 
  • List on your resume any HR-related activities or previous work experience that may have aligned with HR. Coaching, customer service or volunteer work could be applicable. 
  • Also list any relevant courses you’ve taken or groups you belong to where you’ve picked up skills or knowledge that apply to HR. I also recommend taking advantage of everything professional groups and student societies have to offer; many host career fairs, professional development training and networking opportunities. 
  • Look into HR internships. There are some great, roll-up-your-sleeves opportunities that will help you see if you enjoy working in the HR field.  
  • Additionally, consider working toward a certification. After getting a year or two of experience under your belt post-college, you can obtain the SHRM-CP designation. It alerts employers that you understand HR and can help your organization break down complex HR issues.

I also want to share something I’ve learned along the way: Many people think HR is intuitive—that everyone can do it. But the reality is, HR is a science and an art. As you start your career, I hope you take the time to learn the ins and outs of HR. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation, and I wish you luck in finding a job that’s a good fit for you!

My manager just told us our company will conduct a new diversity training. I’m all for the intention, but I’m afraid, given how 2020 is going, it might be too political or even politically biased. Can I refuse to attend? Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I’m glad to hear your company is providing diversity training. In a year full of difficult conversations, it’s more important than ever for employers and employees to come together to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces.

You’re also right about your other point—2020 has been a contentious year. In fact, 44 percent of HR professionals report intensified political volatility at work this year compared to previous years.

I understand your hesitancy to participate in a program you fear could be politically charged. For us in HR, your response isn’t surprising. After all, we’ve actually been socialized not to talk about politics, religion or race at work. But in today’s changing landscape, diversity, equity and inclusion training is one important step to bridging this divide. If the training is done well, these conversations create productive workplace cultures of inclusivity—not incivility.

Whether you opt out of diversity training depends on your company and its requirements, but I strongly encourage your attendance. I’m of the firm belief that change requires us to learn from one another and grow in order to create progress in our workplaces and in the world around us. 

If you’re still concerned about your upcoming training, touch base with your manager or HR to share your thoughts and to get more information. They might be able to provide you with an agenda and let you know how they plan to handle any potential discord. Should you choose to attend, I hope you find this diversity training not only improves your workplace culture but also strengthens your working relationships companywide.

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