Time reporter Lisa Takeuchi Cullen explains why Employee Diversity Training Doesn't Work
Some decades ago, the powers that be declared that employee diversity was a good thing, as desirable as double-digit profit margins. It's proving just as difficult to achieve. Companies try all sorts of things to attract and promote minorities and women. They hire organizational psychologists. They staff booths at diversity fairs. They host dim-sum brunches and salsa nights. The most popular--and expensive--approach is diversity training, or workshops to teach executives to embrace the benefits of a diverse staff. Too bad it doesn't work.
A groundbreaking new study by three sociologists. ...Their analysis found no real change in the number of women and minority managers after companies began diversity training. That's right - none. Networking didn't do much, either. Mentorships did. Among the least common tactics, one - assigning a diversity point person or task force - has the best record of success. "Companies have spent millions of dollars a year on these programs without actually knowing, Are these efforts worth it?" Dobbin says. "In the case of diversity training, the answer is no."
The law is one reason that employers favor diversity training. In the wake of whopping settlements in race-discrimination suits against large companies, including Texaco and Coca-Cola, over the past decade, employers believe that having a program in place can show a judge that they are sincerely fighting prejudice. But this too is a myth, says Dobbin: "I don't know of a single case where courts gave credit for diversity training."
Social psychologists have many theories to explain why diversity training doesn't work as intended. Studies show that any training generates a backlash and that mandatory diversity training in particular may even activate a bias. Researchers also see evidence of "irresistible stereotypes," or biases so deeply ingrained that they simply can't be taught away in a one-day workshop.
The piece is based on a recent American Sociological Review article by Alexandra Kalev of UC Berkeley, Frank Dobbin of Harvard, and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota: Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies (PDF). This is a good example of policy-relevant empirical analysis. Here is the abstract:
Employers have experimented with three broad approaches to promoting diversity. Some programs are designed to establish organizational responsibility for diversity, others to moderate managerial bias through training and feedback, and still others to reduce the social isolation of women and minority workers. These approaches find support in academic theories of how organizations achieve goals, how stereotyping shapes hiring and promotion, and how networks influence careers.
This is the first systematic analysis of their efficacy. The analyses rely on federal data describing the workforces of 708 private sector establishments from 1971 to 2002, coupled with survey data on their employment practices. Efforts to moderate managerial bias through diversity training and diversity evaluations are least effective at increasing the share of white women, black women, and black men in management. Efforts to attack social isolation through mentoring and networking show modest effects. Efforts to establish responsibility for diversity lead to the broadest increases in managerial diversity.
Moreover, organizations that establish responsibility see better effects from diversity training and evaluations, networking, and mentoring. Employers subject to federal affirmative action edicts, who typically assign responsibility for compliance to a manager, also see stronger effects from some programs. This work lays the foundation for an institutional theory of the remediation of workplace inequality.
So organisational responsibilty and accountability make a difference; diversity training and evaluation don't. One wonders why the EEOC didn't examine these issues years ago...