Elevating your company’s culture and embracing diversity is the desired result, but what does it take to get there? Effective, quality training is a key part of that answer. And the journey to achieve an audience experience that’s engaging and relatable is both interesting and enlightening.
Let’s peel back the curtain on the development of Kantola’s recently released Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training course, developed in collaboration with our partner Littler, the largest labor and employment law firm in world, and reveal the creative process of crafting compelling narrative and real-life stories that reach audiences at a deep and meaningful level.
In this Q&A with course producers Alex Miller, Senior Product Manager, and Janet Conley, Writer and Producer, we find out how Littler’s practical, real-world experience on the issues employers and employees are facing, combined with the Kantola team’s ability to make complex subjects come together, leads to a unique learning experience for the audience.
Meet the experts: Janet and Alex
What role did you and other Kantola experts play in the creation of the DEI course?
Janet: Our creative process is collaborative. I do a lot of the writing and early drafts, but everyone on the team provides feedback on the scripts. A diverse team all the way from the CEO to external partners, is involved in shaping content and contributing their unique perspectives and insights based on their personal life experiences. We then pilot early versions with customers to get their feedback and integrate changes that reflect a wide range of perspectives and thinking.
Alex: I worked alongside other Kantola experts, our product team, and subject matter specialists to help conceive of and shape this course. That started with understanding what this program should cover and what we needed it to accomplish—both for the organizations that invested in it and also for individuals taking the program and using it to learn more about these really important topics. We spent extensive time speaking with customers about what they needed from a program like this, read a lot about the topic, and tried to create something that would be meaningful, but also accessible for a large swath of organizations and populations.
Kantola is partnered with Littler, the world’s largest labor and employment law firm. What was Littler’s involvement in creating the course?
Alex: Because Littler is the premier expert in employment law, they have very knowledgeable and experienced attorneys who are working with companies every day, doing training and working on their diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Having Littler’s collaboration on this program helped us to have confidence that what we’ve created is going to give support to the kinds of programs they’re working on with their clients.
Janet: It’s crucial that we have the context of Littler trainers who are in the field and training live audiences. It’s always helped in our writing approach to talk to people who are standing in front of hundreds of learners making their points because they can see the body language of the people in the room, and they can receive the questions from people. Littler’s hands-on experience did an extraordinary job of informing our story-telling development and coursework design. Together we were able to convey the most critical points to the audience in a way that was interesting and engaging.
What was your approach at the beginning of the process?
Alex: We rely on an internal think tank to help drive our creative process, so consulting with our team experts always marks the beginning of our process. And for this effort, our team’s research clearly indicated that our customers needed a new program to address evolving issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion, so a lot of our work early on came down to trying to understand what a program addressing these topics would actually cover, because it’s a very broad subject. It was clear that our customers were looking for a new approach, and we wanted to do it in a way that our customers and their employees would relate to, and that would help them learn to think differently about these issues and make a change in their own approach.
Janet: Our aim was to make a difference; we didn’t want this to be just checking a box that “OK, you had your training, now fine, get back to work.” We wanted to make something that would encourage people to think and change their minds, or at least reach out more to their coworkers and understand that different people have different perspectives—that everyone has a right to their own identity and to be respected for who they are.
How did you approach the first-person interviews in the course?
Alex: We tried to bring in a broad cross-section of people with different perspectives and identities. In addition to a diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds, we have a number of people with disabilities—both physical and psychological—we have men and women, and different ages, and we tried as much as we could to have something in it that everyone could relate to. It became a question of, What are the things we need to cover? And so the first thing was having a section on identity. Why do people experience the workplace differently? Because we’re all in the same space a lot of times. People are working and they share this workspace, and yet two people can have very different experiences depending on their backgrounds.
Janet: On the interviews, we felt it would be more meaningful to have individuals speak for themselves about their experience, so it’s not just somebody from high above teaching you—it’s actual real-life people sharing their experiences, because you can’t argue with anybody’s truth. You can’t try to rebut something that someone experienced and believed and lived every day. We knew we had a goal of teaching certain points. Each interview lasted between 30 minutes to an hour and then we pored over the transcript to find those nuggets, to find the truths that are really true and convey what matters. And we followed with video editing where we would try to capture those moments to create something very effective. The feedback we got from many learners indicated that these were the parts of the course that were most memorable to them.
What was the process of writing the fictional scenarios and what inspired them?
Janet: We did a lot of brainstorming in our team, and we had a specific set of microaggressions we wanted to feature. But listening to the interviews helped us, and all of the reading and research we did gave us the background we needed to shape the narrative and tell the stories. We wanted to show different kinds of issues—like being a woman in the workplace and having to deal with mansplaining, and somebody who stepped up for a coworker and helped them in their career. We also wanted to show how denial of opportunity can happen when some individuals are used to running the show and not sharing the spotlight. Knowing certain topics that we wanted to cover, we would brainstorm and then shape the ideas into a meaningful narrative.
Alex: As Janet said, we’re fortunate to have a diverse team of experts who we rely on for brainstorming. That input and energy fuels the process from beginning to end and informs what we might want to dramatize. We then edit and work on the scenes to create the final cut.
What impact would you say the first-person interviews and fictional stories have?
Alex: The interviews lend the course a sense of authenticity. We thought deeply about how we could tell the stories of so many groups of people, and it became apparent early on that we would do much better by letting people speak for themselves and tell their own stories. The dramatic scenes, on the other hand, are meant to support the learning objectives of the program. We hope that people can watch these scenes and engage with them as high-quality video like they would any show on a streaming service, but then connect the stories to what the course is trying to encourage them to think about and hopefully do differently.
Janet: Yes, the interviews speak for themselves, but the stories do have to convey the content and so they have to be genuine. They have to feel real and also need to teach at the same time. So we would present a dramatic scene and then use the interactive activities to help bring out points. Sometimes watching a story is a little bit passive, so the interactivities make you stop and think about what you just saw and come up with answers to questions about what you just saw. The dramatic stories combined with the interactivities are the teaching tools. And while the interviews teach, they also enlighten and encourage curiosity.
As you were putting the course together, were there changes made along the way?
Alex: There were many changes we made along the way because we worked iteratively. As we received feedback, we would rethink and rework certain areas. Sometimes things just don’t work, like an actor says a line you really want to work, and it just doesn’t make it into the course. We went along very consciously and shot a lot of interview content, interviewed 13 people, and had at least a half hour of content from each of them. We had to choose what we were going to include and not include—sewing it all together and making sure it flows. We wanted to create an engaging and organic experience for the learner.
Janet: You can put the videos together, and then you watch it and you realize, “Wow, wait a minute, that’s not conveying what we meant it to convey!” Because of the context, it doesn’t work, or you might move it to a different place where it makes the point better. It is very iterative, and you go through repeated drafts because you think, “There was one comment in an interview that we didn’t include that would really help make this point,” so you bring it forward and then there might be another one that you think wasn’t clear enough. We worked very hard at it and continued to get feedback and continued to make it smooth, so that there’s no part that pops out as being awkward—each thing leads to the next and we’re taking people on a journey that makes sense.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the filming of the course?
Alex: We learned a lot as an organization about how to film during COVID. When we first started working remotely—because that’s what we did as a company—we began by filming some videos, and then doing an actual course on COVID safety where we hired actors remotely and had them record themselves on their phones. That was interesting, we learned a lot, and we were able to get to a place where we were confident we could film safely in person with actors who were unmasked. We kept the space safe, had all these protocols in place, and ultimately were able to create a really high-quality product under these very difficult circumstances.
Janet: In order to keep the crew to a minimum, we had only essential people, so we had just one person doing wardrobe and makeup and all the crew stayed masked the whole time. We didn’t use a lot of extras, but we were able to use members of the crew as “background” as much as possible since they were there anyway. But the biggest change was that the producers, Alex and myself, did not go on the set and yet, we’re a vital part of the production because we work with the directors to say, “Yes, that line read works, we got what we needed” or “No, we need to go again, we need another take because the actor misspoke or emphasized the wrong word or wasn’t believable.” We were focused on getting the best possible quality, but because we couldn’t be on the set without adding more people that weren’t needed, they created a remote “video village” for us.
So, we were using Zoom to observe the actors either with a remote feed or even something as primitive as just holding up an iPhone so we could see and hear what was going on. That was sort of a learning experience, how to be remote and yet still get what we needed, and we achieved that.
What do you hope viewers will walk away with when they finish the course?
Janet: We hoped that people would understand that their coworkers are important, that they will really grow by keeping an open mind and by enlarging their circle, and that the whole workplace will be much more pleasant when everyone treats each other with respect. We also hope that the people who have been feeling excluded or marginalized might have some words that they could use, or some solutions they could use, to feel more empowered and optimistic about the potential for change in their organization.
Alex: What we want most is just for people to see some things that they didn’t see before—perspectives and experiences that were there all along, but for whatever reason wasn’t part of their experience—and just feel compelled to do something to make a difference for others. Our program includes so many different people with different experiences that I hope one of them at least will resonate with every learner, so they can say, “Well, OK, that’s somebody whose experience I can do something to make a difference for in the future.”