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Diversity Education or Diversity Training?

Excerpt from “Teach a Man to Fish: Training vs. Education”
By Daniel Burrus

Let’s distinguish between training and education.

An ancient truism says that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, and if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.

I’d go a step further: don’t just teach him how to catch a fish. Educate him about the art and science of fishing.

Go beyond the mechanics of catching a fish and enlighten the man by explaining the biological forces underlying the key elements of fishing. Give him the big picture. Teach the reasons behind the design of the equipment. Teach him about water current, patterns in fish mating and feeding cycles, including economic and environmental trends that impact the lifecycles of fish.


Burrus uses this old cliché about fisherman to illustrate the divide between training and education. Training is skill-oriented: it’s learning how to fish. Education is concept-based: it’s learning to see the big picture of why and how things work together. And, it is only with education that true breakthroughs are possible.

I stumbled upon the article “Teach a Man to Fish: Training vs Education” by Daniel Burrus about a year ago. At the time, I served as a chief diversity officer (CDO) at a major, flagship, research university and unbeknownst to me, was in the “seedling stage” of developing and launching my diversity education consulting company, Cultural Connections by Design, LLC (CCBD). Burrus’ article resonated with me as a lifelong educator who had dedicated 25+ years to the profession. I was fascinated by the simplicity and clarity of his positioning to distinguish the difference between education and training by using the well-known cliché “teach a man (person) to fish.”

While serving as CDO, my colleagues and I worked tirelessly to provide programming, support systems, and training platforms in an attempt to create an inclusive campus for all faculty, staff, and students. Unfortunately, like many centralized diversity offices, the focus of the work seemed to oftentimes yield towards crisis management and other attempts to implement various preventive measures and processes. I remember sometimes feeling stuck, because while engaging in the “one step forward, two steps back” dance routine over and over, diversity work can feel like a perpetual loop with no end in sight.

For many organizations, the priority has been to simply increase employee diversity by hiring more people from traditional racialized and marginalized groups.

As the cultural demographic shift continues to transform the face of America, leaders are taking a closer look at the diversity and inclusion efforts in their respected organizations. For many organizations, the priority has been to simply increase employee diversity by hiring more people from traditional racialized and marginalized groups. However, the composition or makeup of employee diversity is only a first step in creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels they belong. In an organization with an inclusive culture of belonging, everyone will not only survive, but thrive. After the hiring process, then the real work begins. The “work” of creating an inclusive culture of belonging – a culture that accepts, values, and views strength in individual differences.

To “accept, value, and view strength in individual differences,” one must understand the unique difference each person brings to the organization. Using the gestalt theory as a foundational base, the gestalt says the makeup of the “whole” is the summation of its individual parts. These parts become so interwoven and intertwined to the point that we only really see the whole. For example, we see “the university,” “the business,” “the hospital,” or “the organization,” but oftentimes, we do not understand or acknowledge the “whole” is a combination of each person’s backgrounds, beliefs, experiences, perspectives, biases, etc. These components are so integrated to the point that they become perceived as the “whole,” the organization itself, or more specifically, the organizational culture.

I believe it is only through diversity education, true change can occur.

How does an organization help their stakeholders value differences and more importantly, learn to leverage these differences as an asset? To transform an organization, one must first transform people. As CDO, I became convinced we needed to flip our diversity paradigm from a diversity management model to a diversity education model. I believe this is the answer for many organizations that are trying to create cultural organizational change. I believe it is only through diversity education, true change can occur.

Why diversity education versus diversity training? Diversity education is holistic, it is purposeful. The process moves deeper rather than broader. An education process explains the “why” and “how.” It provides specific context and overarching constructs that create the varying diversity landscapes we attempt to navigate every day. Diversity education is multi-dimensional to address sociocultural contexts that are constantly evolving. Diversity education provides individuals with the appropriate tools to successfully transfer knowledge to navigate the complexities of various cultural landscapes. Although diversity education may be more time-intensive and require a deeper level of commitment, in the long run, diversity education yields a much higher return on investment because it transforms people, and transformed people transforms organizations.

Group of people around a table playing the CCBD card game
A group playing CCBD’s card game the Matrix of Intersectionality

CCBD clearly distinguishes itself as a diversity education consulting company by providing diversity education, not diversity training. Through our thorough discovery process, planning and development, implementation and execution, we “design” diversity education processes to address the specific needs of each organization. Our process centers around the notion that knowledge is power. Power, when used responsibly, creates transformative change.

Diversity is ever evolving and there are no two identical diversity situations, so a “one size fits all” approach cannot be implemented. CCBD has worked with various academic institutions, healthcare organizations, government agencies, non-profits, and corporations.  Using our proprietary learning tools, when we work with organizations, we acknowledge and understand that we are working with individuals. As individuals forge personal and professional breakthroughs, they become empowered to create innovative change within their organization. Our approach is creative, innovative, and “out of the box”. Simply stated, it’s diversity education.


Meet the Author

Nicole R. Robinson Ph.D.

Founder & CEO


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