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Does Diversity Training Work?

Published by on August 10, 2012

Does diversity training work?  Peter Bregman writes in an article at Psychology Today that diversity training actually promotes prejudice.   More after the break. Bregman references a study of 821 companies which concluded that diversity training has “no positive effects in the average workplace.”  Not only does training have no positive effects, it is often harmful.  […]

Does diversity training work?  Peter Bregman writes in an article at Psychology Today that diversity training actually promotes prejudice.   More after the break.

Bregman references a study of 821 companies which concluded that diversity training has “no positive effects in the average workplace.”  Not only does training have no positive effects, it is often harmful.  Employers pay millions of dollars to run these programs, but the expense can become even more costly when training backfires as lawsuits. 

Diversity training often employs two types of exercises.  In the first, participants are instructed on what should and should not be said at the workplace.  This often leads to inappropriate jokes.  An article at the Blog for the Competitive Enterprise Institute notes that diversity training compels “employees to talk about contentious racial or sexual issues,” resulting in remarks that trigger workplace lawsuits. 

The second strategy categorizes participants into groups to demonstrate their similarities, but this simply reinforces stereotypes.  Diversity and attitudes often remain unchanged after these seminars because employees do not take the training seriously and the exercises fail to create an inclusive environment.  Diversity training persists, however, because companies and organizations are often required to run programs in order to obtain accreditation or licensing.

Bregman suggests communication training as an alternative solution.  Co-workers must learn to communicate with a range of individuals by learning to listen and speak to one another in a respectful manner.  A related article at CBS MoneyWatch offers five suggestions for having difficult conversations and improving inter-office relationships.  The author suggests co-workers identify appropriate responses to offensive comments before reporting truly discriminatory behavior.

As the federal government ramps up enforcement activity through the EEOC, DOL and OFCCP, diversity training is likely to become a larger cottage industry.  (Law school law review publications are starting to buy into the diversity system, as they are now starting to appoint “diversity editors.”)  The question will remain, however, whether such training is actually accomplishing the goal sought by these agencies and the anti-discrimination laws or whether it is just making things worse.  Only time will tell.

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