“Diversity Training Doesn’t Work”

by Walter Olson on April 27, 2012

The popular management technique, adopted in countless workplaces in response to legal and regulatory pressure, may inadvertently intensify rather than extinguish prejudice, argues Peter Bregman in Psychology Today. Earlier here, here, and, on sexual harassment prevention/sensitivity training, here, here, here, etc.

More: From Hans Bader, why it persists despite failure — in education, accreditation rules are one important driver — and why trainers have been known to encourage employers in mistaken beliefs (such as that public employees can and should be disciplined for criticizing affirmative action policies) that are at variance with court holdings.

{ 4 trackbacks }

Diversity Training Doesn’t Work, But It Persists Anyway, Due to Compulsion
04.27.12 at 4:36 pm
Diversity Training Follies | The Moral Liberal
04.30.12 at 1:58 pm
(The Right) Diversity Training Works –The Impact of Cross-Cultural Training » Navigating Cultures
05.17.12 at 4:13 pm
Labor and employment law roundup - Overlawyered
05.24.12 at 12:30 am

{ 22 comments }

1 Richard Nieporent 04.27.12 at 9:19 am

I have a modest suggestion to solve this problem. Only hire liberals. Since we know liberals cannot be prejudiced, then no one will be able to take offense no matter what they say or do.

2 Mannie 04.27.12 at 10:04 am

Isn’t sensitivity training where you learn all the best ethnic and sexist jokes?

3 Anonymous Attorney 04.27.12 at 11:21 am

“Diversity training” has become an industry. There’s a lot of money to be made, and litigation is an ever-present threat that helps to justify the programs. A company doesn’t need to show that the training works, only that they put it on. Voila, they have a point of defense.

I have always felt uncomfortable during these trainings, because they come from such a political perspective: white males are the source of all evil, everyone else is the source of all goodness and light. Once you accept that premise, you’ve got it. I’ve been in office environments where they’ll scream “white boy”, but this of course isn’t insensitive. So it’s imbalanced.

A study by Thomas Kochan of MIT showed that diversity itself — that much-ballyhooed workplace virtue — does nothing to improve business, and may even hurt it. But clearly, discussing such results is insensitive.

4 Mark Biggar 04.27.12 at 12:07 pm

Has anyone ever tried to sue their employer because the Diversity Training (with all the examples of what not to do) created a hostile workplace?

5 John Burgess 04.27.12 at 1:20 pm

The diversity training programs I’ve been through with the federal government were entertaining and interesting the first time through. By the time of the fourth one, not so much.

I do think they can be useful, though. My offices were staffed with widely diverse ethnic and religiously-identified individuals, so it wasn’t a waste of time to have people made cognizant of buzz words and hot-button issues.

But again, it wasn’t necessary to repeat it every time a new Administration came in or a promotion was received.

6 Yeaah 04.27.12 at 3:04 pm

“The communication trainings I led for Bedia were ten years ago and they haven’t been sued since.”

They are selling product and the article is the promotion. They made communication trainings and that turned them from “a lot of lawsuits” into “no lawsuit”. If you believe that, I have cure for all diseases to sell.

So, we should exchange money and time wasting diversity trainings with money and time wasting communication trainings. I do not see it as something better. Waste is the waste is the waste.

7 Ron Miller 04.27.12 at 3:42 pm

I don’t all diversity training falls into the category AA sets forth at the top although I’m sure there are many like that.

Goodness, Richard, do you use a liberal/conservative lens to pick your favorite sports teams? How about buying a car? There has to be other ways to view the world.

8 Ron Miller 04.27.12 at 4:19 pm

I agree by the way that diversity training is largely useless. People are generally going to be who there are. I think the same is true for lawyers. Either you are going to do the right thing or you are not.

( I have never seen data; I could easily be proven wrong on this.)

9 Jim Collins 04.27.12 at 4:52 pm

Ron,
By the “diversity training” that I have had to attend, both at work and college, I am 100% in agreement with Richard. If it walks like a duck……….
In every training session the class was made-up of white males and nobody else. The instructors were always women or minorities. If you just go along with it and parrot back their mantra that everything is your fault, you are fine, until the next training session.

10 John Burgess 04.27.12 at 8:19 pm

Ron: The training does serve at least one useful purpose: It provides employees with fair warning that certain kinds of behavior are proscribed. Employees generally have to sign that they’ve attended the training, so they lose the argument of ‘Who knew?’. That can be helpful in dealing with truculent employees.

11 Richard Nieporent 04.27.12 at 8:58 pm

Goodness, Richard, do you use a liberal/conservative lens to pick your favorite sports teams? How about buying a car? There has to be other ways to view the world.

Or course Ron, you would never be guilty of viewing things from a liberal vs. conservative perspective.

12 Malcolm Smith 04.28.12 at 2:26 am

I’m reminded of a statement made by an Englishman I met:
“I was forced to send my staff to a racial sensitivity course. They were all pretty broadminded before they went, and they all came back racists.”
“Why?”
“Because of the obnoxious manner of the trainer.”
Nuff said.

13 Mannie 04.28.12 at 9:46 am

They were all pretty broadminded before they went, and they all came back racists.”
“Why?”
“Because of the obnoxious manner of the trainer.”

This bis a serious issue that transcends sensitivity training. If I am going to be bombarded with the mantra that “Everything Whitey Does is Racist,” then dammit, I might as well be a racist. They are making racism respectable again.

14 B 04.28.12 at 10:27 am

As a non-Christian, I’d really like it if my boss wouldn’t mention Jesus in front of the rest of the institution. (He’s so happy he has that relationship that he wants to share with everyone else.) Other than diversity training or a lawsuit, how would you recommend that I get him and people like him to avoid this massive cultural insensitivity? (Note: he has sole discretion to fire me without cause, and I am an imperfect employee.) And to the people who work in all-white-male workplaces, that’ seems… strange. Why is it that your offices seem to be so… white and male? Do you honestly believe that’s the result of the actual distribution of talent in your local population?

15 Robert 04.28.12 at 10:39 am

Do you want to see the least diverse set of people? Do a google image search for “Chief Diversity Officer”. One of my clients–a fortune 100 company–just named a new one.

16 ps 04.28.12 at 1:22 pm

B, yes, it is.

17 Yeaah 04.28.12 at 3:06 pm

Just as I do not believe that sensitivity training makes people more tolerant, I also doubt that it has the power to turn person into racist. If it does, then the person is so easy to be influenced, that he is going to change his mind in next day due to random encounter in grocery store.

The other claim I doubt is the claim that only white people in your workplace go there. If the place has sensitivity training, then every employee had to go there. Unless you have been sent there as a punishment or warning.

18 Ron Miller 04.28.12 at 4:50 pm

The question of whether someone was a racist was tipped by either an obnoxious trainer or because you have been accused of racism yourself?

That thread was probably going to break anyway, don’t you think?

He’s so happy in his relationship with Jesus that he is talking about it. Does it really bug you that much? Seems like the perfect situation to live and let live to me. If you can’t, how about an anonymous email?

19 Marty Murphy 04.28.12 at 5:34 pm

“Obsessive rumination about past events can trap patients in a self-defeating cycle from which they cannot extricate themselves. It can actually retard healing.”

- John C. Norcross, Psychology Professor at the University of
Scranton (NYTimes, 02/14/2005)

20 Dirk Diggler 04.30.12 at 11:56 am

“And to the people who work in all-black-male basketball teams, that seems… strange. Why is it that your basketball teams seem to be so… black and male? Do you honestly believe that’s the result of the actual distribution of talent in your local population?”

21 DensityDuck 04.30.12 at 5:14 pm

The point of this training is not to benefit the employee. It’s to protect the employer from a discrimination lawsuit.

22 Chris 05.08.12 at 6:20 am

noticing the prevalence of male names in agreement w/ the make author’s premise … just an observation.

Reminds me of my early life experience /observations that in the deep south black folks were (are) the primary objects of derision, prejudice, bigotry, resentment, poor treatment while along the borders of southwestern states brown folks were (are) the targets of exactly the same kinds of derision, prejudice, bigotry — spoken of, treated in almost exactly the same dehumanizing ways.

Poorer folks were (are) always understood as/treated as having ‘less value’/'lower than’ the more well off, better educated, more ‘popular’, better dressed, better employed…’better’ being understood as having higher status due to having more money, with color of skin adding another layer of ‘value/worth’ (or lack thereof) to the calculation — not due to actual contributions to / betterment of the human condition or treatment of others.

Hell, we (especially in the legal/financial/corporate/militaristic realms) proudly proclaim ‘it’s better to be feared than …. anything else’!

And women/girls of ALL skin colors were (are) regarded universally as inferior to, far less valuable/worthy — always sneeringly (snickeringly, snidely) derisively dismissed/referred to and presumed ‘ less than / inferior to’ any male present or not — additionally distributed along / refined bythe heirarchies of color and class. Anything remotely female was/is regarded as unworthy of respect, value, standing up for in the presence of other (overwhelmingly insecure, developmentally arrested) males of any age/color/creed.

One of the most conscience/consciousness-impacting facts that pointed out to me the stark differences in the lived experiences/dailyness of life between men & women — most women live w/ the awareness that their biggest daily life vulnerability for themselves (and their children) — the biggest life fear in relation to MEN/males is the fear of physical/sexual assault. They practically have to arrange their lives to avoid it, always have to be aware of it in their & their children’s movements — it’s barely even conscious it’s so automatic and inherent.

What’s our biggest deep dark fear in our daily life, our biggest fear in relation to women? Fear of humiliation. (yeah it’s all about performance & egos which know no boundaries or humility, full of self-involved insecurities, as usual).

That’s a huge difference in not only perception, but lived experiences, and a glimpse into gaining a sliver of understanding of just how much the implicit/hidden threat of violence by us and the fear of violence we invoke toward women, children–’the others’– on the deepest (unconscious) levels.

That’s when I began to understand the ‘problem’ was not people of color, or poor people or women — the problem lay primarily with the white people in power and those whom they/we bestowed/accorded the most power, privilege, entitlement, access, benefits upon (primarily other white males –I.e. ‘my own kind’) — those w/ the most who took (take/reserve) the most for themselves, and resent like hell anyone, any group not a privileged member of the group (not entitled to group membership) who presumes to have the right to the unearned benefits, entitlements, privileges of this power-wielding group based on not much more than a history of entitlement based primarily on gender, ethnicity & skin color, followed by class ( in this country for sure).

Turns out: Not very much has fundamentally changed in the 40+ years since I understood what was really going on.

No wonder diversity training doesn’t take with the primary group(s) most in need of enlightenment — the privileged, entitled power holders farthest from the lived experiences of those who actually are ‘diverse’ — those whose lives are ‘divergent’ from we the self-perpetuating ‘masters of the universe’, no matter our actual work positions because our cultural positions mandate that we reject all those ‘others’ and anything they might teach us. Reject. Out. of. Hand. Period.

We are uninterested in being enlightened. We prefer our unearned, self-bestowed benefits, privileges, entitlements, power. Too much to lose. Or so we fear/believe — deep down I think many of us do know we’re short-changing ourselves, our workplaces, or families, friends, loved ones. But we’re actually too afraid and too arrogant to find out. And we well kniw how powerful fear really is.

Comments on this entry are closed.