Conversations with Paul Gillen The importance of behavioural change for equality, diversity and inclusion.

Education and training are important tools in any organization’s DEI strategy but if you are depending on these alone to see real change around diversity, equity, or inclusion it won’t work. 

Paul Gillen, IoD NI Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador, discusses the importance of behavioural change with Greg Neville of Eagle’s Flight.

Greg Neville works as VP of Business Development in Europe for Eagle’s Flight, a global training company with an experiential learning focus. He helps advise and facilitate culture transformation and leadership development initiatives, including DEI and customized solutions, for clients across a broad range of businesses.

Paul: So, is it just about bad behaviour?

Greg: Common reactions to bad attitudes or behaviours around DEI often include well-meaning phrases like: “it’s all about education” and “people just need to be educated.” Education and training are valuable. But real progress in your DEI initiative requires more.

Paul: So, what would you typically see when considering “real progress” with DE&I in the workplace?

Greg: You have a culture in your organisation. Over time this culture has been formed through a collection of your norms – “How things are done around here”. These norms have been shaped by the everyday behaviours that your people choose or are led to adopt.  These behaviours are influenced by the values of individuals or organisation concerned.

If you want to create a more diverse or inclusive culture in your organisation you will need to adopt new or improved everyday norms. These new norms will only ever be realised if individuals choose or are led to adopt the required everyday behaviours. Then you will see change.

Paul: Would a starting point be setting or changing organisational values?

Greg: Organisational values should always be considered and should support any DEI strategy, but changing these values is often beyond the scope of any DEI initiative. Individual values hopefully will change through your program but again this is beyond your control. So, to see real progress in your DEI initiative you must focus on seeing a tangible and quantifiable change in human behaviours.

Paul: I’m guessing it’s not as straight forward as training people and hoping their behaviours change?

Greg: The problem is human beings don’t and often won’t change behaviour from the conventional means of training even if they are open or listening. This principle is true for behavioural change in all areas of culture, leadership, and skills and research confirms it is also true for DEI.  There is a great article in the Harvard Business Review ( on “Diversity Training Work the Way It’s Supposed To?”.

For me there are a few reasons why the conventional methods we use to train people in diversity, equity, and inclusion are not the answer:

  • People tend to learn by doing, rather than just lecture-based learning.
  • Humans need to be convinced of the need to change and it’s benefits before abandoning old ways of working. They need to develop a personal conviction to change.
  • We often learn from significant experiences which profoundly impact our ways of thinking and behaving – ‘experiential learning’.

The practical way to implement this thinking is to have an approach that addresses the four key areas necessary for behaviour change.

Paul: Interesting, can you set out the four key areas for our readers?

Greg: Of course, and when you read them you hopefully this will trigger some thoughts about your approach.  So they are:

Heart: The critical starting point in any behaviour change is raising conviction. People understanding the need to change creates motivation and helps counter cynicism, fear, or any resistance to making behavioural change a priority.

In our experience, conviction is best created through experiences which are deliberately created at first glance to seem unrelated to the topic. This disarms and engages participants, before drawing out the principals and practical behaviours required.

Head: World-class theory from DEI thought leaders now becomes deeply relevant to participants and is quickly assimilated and contextualised.

Hands: Relevant skills and models are now welcomed as participants are keen to implement the change they now understand and want.

Harvest: Sessions are supported with retention strategies to ensure learning is systemically retained and associated behaviours supported.

Of particular importance in DEI sessions is the need for psychological safety. Self-preservation can often drive participants to publicly give the ‘right answers’ whilst simultaneously having the internal conviction that this won’t work in the ‘real world.’  This highlights one of the pitfalls with DEI initiatives relying too heavily on the use of actor driven scenarios. These can be realistic and sometimes even effective but fundamentally attempt to elicit authentic and sustainable responses from fabricated scenarios.

In our experience, creating safe spaces for authentic personal engagement and honest exploration of individual behaviours is vital in seeing real progress in DEI.

Paul: How does Eagle’s Flight approach DE&I behavioural change?

Greg: At Eagle’s Flight we address this need for authentic engagement, and being motivated to change, through experiential learning, which forms part of our wider process described above as heart, head, hands, and harvest.

If your organisation is committed to seeing real progress around diversity, equity, and inclusion the efforts are well worth it. It will pay huge dividends to the organisation as a whole and for the people who work there. If you would like to know more about our approach at Eagle’s Flight or if there is any other way that I can help with your DEI initiative feel free to get in touch.  You can read more at or contact me on [email protected].

Paul: Thanks for that Greg, really interesting insight for organisations to consider to ensure a success in developing DE&I.

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