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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Diversity training' costs billions, but does it work?

There's no evidence diversity training works and some evidence it hurts, writes Jesse Singal in a New York Times commentary.

Credit: DALL-E

The diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) industry has exploded, reaching an estimated $3.4 billion in 2020, he writes. Workshops are supposed to "foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on."

"Diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around,”wrote sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018. Mandatory workshops may lead to negative backlash or worsen pre-existing biases.


These days, DEI programs "often blame white people — or their culture — for harming people of color," writes Singal. Many "run counter to the views of most Americans — of any color — on race and equality."

For example, the activist Tema Okun’s work cites concepts like “objectivity” and “worship of the written word” as characteristics of “white supremacy culture.” Robin DiAngelo’s “white fragility” trainings are intentionally designed to make white participants uncomfortable. And microaggression trainings are based on an area of academic literature that claims, without quality evidence, that common utterances like “America is a melting pot” harm the mental health of people of color.
. . . the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture . . . had to issue an apology after it posted an Okunesque graphic that presented rational thought, hard work and “emphasis on scientific method” as attributes of “white culture.”

Okun's ideas make a lot of non-white people uncomfortable too. School district trainings that tell teachers that objectivity, rationality, writing and the scientific method are inherently white strike me as racist.


DEI trainings are generating lawsuits, writes Singal. To improve an organization's DEI issues, “focus on actions and behaviors rather than hearts and minds,” suggests Robert Livingston, a Harvard lecturer who works as a bias researcher and a diversity consultant.

For example, "if you want more Black and Latino people in management roles at your large company, that might require gathering data on what percentage of applicants come from these groups, interviewing current Black and Latino managers on whether there are climate issues that could be contributing to the problem and possibly beefing up recruitment efforts at, say, business schools with high percentages of Black and Latino graduates," writes Singal. That takes time and effort.

“Some organizations want to do window dressing,” Livingston told Singal. “And if so, then, OK, bring in a white fragility workshop and know you’ve accomplished your goal.”

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5 Comments


Guest
Jan 23, 2023

Well, from what I know it excels at getting people to hate diversity training. Other than that, I doubt it.

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Guest
Jan 23, 2023

Haven't they found similar things with anti-bullying curricula in schools? It did more to teach bullies new ways to be mean than stop them from being mean in the first place.


-- Ann in L.A.

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Guest
Jan 22, 2023

What is the goal of the diversity training: remind customer facing business to not be rude to the customers, to tolerate the customers being rude to them, and to give the employer the ability to fire/punish employees who screw up. At that, the training is sometimes successful.

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Guest
Jan 22, 2023

My kid is finishing the last few scout requirements before starting on his Eagle project. The scouts have added a new diversity badge. Kids says that some questions are useful - How can you make your troop more welcoming to new people? Others are weird. Kid had to interview a peer who identifies differently. Kid chose to interview a Catholic friend who would find this as strange as kid did. But, in considering how to do this we had some interesting conversations. Kid was asking 'So, am I supposed to think about my friends and start considering how they are different when it's never been an issue before?'. When we started considering different people, we realized that we already …

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Steve Sherman
Steve Sherman
Jan 22, 2023

It depends on what you mean by 'works'? If you mean brainwashing susceptible immature kids who know next to nothing it's awesome - if you mean makes the world a better place - not so much.

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