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Why Do We Need Sensitivity Training ?

14, February,

For the longest time, Sephora was my favourite store. It has many things going for it. It has a fantastic selection of products and brands, and one can browse for hours without feeling guilty or pressured into buying. A little over a year ago, however, I had an encounter at Sephora that left a bad taste in my mouth.

One afternoon in the February of 2020, I came into Sephora lugging my one-year-old baby along. My skin was pigmented from the after-effects of pregnancy; my hair was a mess because my baby was then still afraid of the hairdryer, and I was generally tired and sporting dark circles from all the sleepless nights of new motherhood. That morning, I resolved to take better care of myself, and in that spirit, I decided to treat myself to a few new skin products.

I went to Sephora looking for some recommendations and approached a very smartly dressed salesgirl with smooth skin and silky dark hair tied neatly in a bun. I told her what I was looking for, and she asked me — “ are you looking to buy today, or are you here for the samples only?”. I was a little taken aback but told her that I am ready to spend 200 dollars if she can make some good recommendations. She carefully looked at my skin and started making recommendations. She chose Caudalie products for me, a brand that I had never tried before. I asked her if she could tell me a little about the brand, and she went on to sing its praises. She said -” in fact, these products are amongst those that are most often stolen from our stores.” “Really, why is that?” I said. And she replied — “ oh, because these work fantastic on coloured skin.”

Bedraggled and tired that I was, I could not muster enough outrage at the audacity of that statement. I bought the recommended products and came home, but I had lost the excitement that generally comes with shopping for pleasure. The products sat on my dresser for a month unopened, after which I returned them for store credit. That was, alas, my last visit to Sephora.

The incident bought into perspective the importance of sensitivity and culture training for employees. Especially in Canada, home to over 60 ethnicities and many cultural identities, it is not enough to form diversity and inclusion regulations. Developing a genuinely inclusive workforce needs to be at the forefront of our management strategy. But it is easier said than done in retail, where employee turnover is high, and help is often hired seasonally. Moderating the behaviour and communication of its workforce is a daunting task indeed. The question that I want to ask is not whether it is possible but whether it is considered at all. Organizations often include diversity training as part of their compliance program, now more than ever delivered online in pre-recorded formats. The employees often skim their way through them, not due to paucity of time but because management has failed to bring home the message of its importance. The learning and development department is often treated as a stepchild, and diversity training ranks much below sales in the order of importance it is accorded. What is required is a top-down approach, delivered through the layers, supported by training, and strengthened by reinforcement. A culture of inclusion takes time to foster; it must be handled like a premature baby-incubated, observed and cared for over and over until it can learn to breathe on its own.