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The Problem With Diversity Training

The cover story of the most recent Harvard Business Review presents a comprehensive case that corporate diversity training, a set of well-meaning ideological rituals that have become steadily more standardized and widespread over decades of federal mandates and class action lawsuits, has actually reduced the representation of women and minorities at major companies. A taste:

It shouldn’t be surprising that most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity. Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s—which often make things worse, not better. Firms have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers. Those tools are designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions. Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out. As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy. Try to coerce me to do X, Y, or Z, and I’ll do the opposite just to prove that I’m my own person. […]

The numbers sum it up. Your organization will become less diverse, not more, if you require managers to go to diversity training, try to regulate their hiring and promotion decisions, and put in a legalistic grievance system.

The article focuses on corporations, but many of the same conclusions could be applied to college campuses, where diversity consultants are in high demand, and where calls for more seem to grow louder by the semester. Many campus activists have even called for expanded diversity training as a form of punishment for students who disagree with them. As we’ve noted before, all the evidence on campus diversity programs likewise suggests that they increase resentments and drive students of different backgrounds further apart.

The HBR article notes that one of the best mechanisms for increasing diversity within firms is promoting contact between groups. “Working side-by-side breaks down stereotypes, which leads to more equitable hiring and promotion,” the authors write. The same is probably true for campuses: The social psychologist Chris Martin has argued that promoting a sense of common identity on campus has a better chance of working than the left-wing activist program of segregated “safe spaces” and ethnic identity centers.

While diversity programs have not worked for minority students or employees, they have worked out quite well for a small subset of the population: The lawyers, bureaucrats, managers, and consultants who make up the burgeoning diversity industry. This industry is powerful and connected, in the private sector, in academia, and in government. Don’t expect it to be knocked out of its lucrative perch anytime soon.

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  • Pete

    Diversity is not strength.

  • JR

    What’s missing is increase in high end taxes. That will solve all problems.

    • cecil2

      You mean theft of the productive. By parasites who get the government to do the stealing. Contemptible.

  • GS

    There is no need to “promote the contact between groups”, or to discourage such contact. Anything forced backfires. The best possible way to proceed is the natural way – the voluntary association [and dissociation as well].

    • Frank Natoli

      When the original “Planet of the Apes” was made, come lunch break, the gorilla extras in costume ate with the gorilla extras, the chimps with the chimps and the orangs with the orangs. Now WHO told them to do that?

      • f1b0nacc1

        There is an amusing story from the filming of “Animal House”. During the filming, the actors from the ‘Delta’ house were kept segregated from those in the ‘Omega’ house, and both groups were encouraged to play pranks on each other. Apparently it was a deliberate choice on the part of the director, and it worked….

        • Frank Natoli

          I judge a movie by its ability to create suspension of disbelief. However insane “Animal House” was, I confess to having total suspension of disbelief when I saw it. The actors, nobody except perhaps Donald Sutherland a big name, really, really lived the roles. I’m not surprised at the story you relate.
          And I do recall, the first time I saw the scene were the devil pops up on Tom Hulce’s shoulder, and delivers the two word suggestion of how to proceed, absolute pandemonium occurred in the theater [big theater, long before 10, 12 or 50 mini-theaters], I laughed myself to the point where I was graying out, and it wasn’t until I finally saw the film on VHS many years later that I got to hear the rest of the devil’s suggestions.

        • Boritz

          Orwell’s story should be required reading along with high-end tax increases.

      • Boritz

        Makes me wonder if the same thing happened with the green, blue and orange uniform wearers on the Star Trek set. Especially since the orange crew knew they wouldn’t all be around for long.

        • LarryD

          ??! It was the red shirts who died with depressing regularity. Not all red shirts were security, and thus, expendable extras, but security were red shirts. Orange were command/tactical track.

      • GS

        well, the xenophobic impulse is a genetic hardwire. We learned to keep it within some boundaries, and that can be seen as a mark of progress.

        • Frank Natoli

          Affluent blacks in Atlanta suburbs prefer black neighborhoods. Are they “xenophobic”? Is there a need to keep their preference within “boundaries”?

          • GS

            The bowel movement is equally natural and equally hard-wired. And the boundaries for it take the etiquette form: crap not in the streets, there are restrooms for the purpose. The same here.

    • Larry J

      I attended desegregated schools in the 1960s and 70s but there wasn’t a lot of contract between people of different races. We attended classes together but went our own way afterwards. We’d have more contact if we were in the same extracurricular activities together. When I joined the Army after high school, things were different. We had people from varied racial and economic backgrounds living, working, and playing together. We got to know one another as individuals. Your reputation was what counted. Could you be relied on? Were you honest? Were you a weak link that could harm the unit? How good a soldier are you? Those were what mattered. This was before diversity training. In basic training, my primary drill sergeant was a black man with two assistants who were Hispanic. They had our complete respect. One thing I learned is that no racial or ethnic group cornered the market on a$$holes. So long as you aren’t an a$$hole, we can probably get along great.

      • GS

        And let them. While it is much harder to apply to the military, I have [and can have] absolutely nothing against people associating, or dissociating, voluntarily. If they want it, let them have it, it does not cost me a thing. But at the same time and by the same token, nobody [regardless of pigmentation, religion, age, gender, ethnicity, and so on] should have the right to force oneself on the unwilling others, whatever the pretext.

  • Frank Natoli

    When one of the two major political parties relentlessly stresses identity politics and identity victimization, the “us versus them” is going to overwhelm the “diversity” training, isn’t it?

  • Andrew Allison

    Like the wars on terror, drugs and poverty. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhYJS80MgYA

    • Jim__L

      I often wonder if the doorkickers in Iraq were taught this phrase, too.

  • Ofer Imanuel

    I work in the tech industry, which is quite diverse – mostly whites, Chinese and Indians. All the various mandatory diversity training does, it encourages us to be quiet. Fortunately, hiring is based on “technical interviews” – essentially a series of 1-1 tests. So no diversity based hiring.

    • Matt B

      There’s still plenty of room for bias in tech hiring. It’s not hard to find teams that tilt toward one ethnic group or another. If you are from the preferred group you will be given the benefit of the doubt in an interview, whereas a weakness in a member of an out group will be seen as evidence that they are not qualified.

      Confirmation bias (readily accepting information that confirms what you already believe and doubting information that challenges your beliefs) is part of human nature. The major tech companies structure their interview processes to minimize the effect of this bias, but it can’t be eliminated.

      • JR

        Majority of my IT group is Indian. That has caused approximately 0 problems. This obsession with diversity is virtue signaling, nothing more.

      • Frank Natoli

        Except perhaps in the largest companies, tech hiring often proceeds by word of mouth. “Oh, sure, I know somebody who is a good C# guy, or double-E, or mechanical, here’s his contact info and resume” and, human nature being human nature, the guy is the same ethnicity as the referrer. It’s not bigotry, it’s familiarity. “Diversity” mandates attempt to suppress familiarity and replace it with ignorance and chance.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The best diversity training would be focused on “do” rather than “don’t'” and concentrated on how all employees are to treat all other employees. It would be clear on an expectation of “golden-rule” kindness and courtesy, be as short as possible and ideally not dwell at all on gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual identity/orientation. It might say something like “If a person is accidentally hired who does not know right from wrong in speaking to or about other people, he or she has no place in our group. We not only do not promote people who participate in meanness or passive aggression, we would prefer to not retain them at all.”

    • LarryD

      And there are so many students in big name universities who are self-identifying as toxic, these days. I expect they’ll easily find positions in government or “non-profits”.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I would not argue with your first sentence. None of this is easy. Hopefully people who have practiced being toxic will go to a place (even government or non-profit) where the leadership fixes them by not accommodating toxic behavior.

    • M Snow

      I have no objection to promoting kindness and politeness, but the diversity crowd has no interest in either. If the “lessons” my husband, son and daughter have been subjected to are at all representative, the whole point is to induce guilt and shame on white folks. Oh, and also to provide lucrative employment to people who otherwise have little to offer to the job market.

      • JR

        Agree completely. Diversity and diversity training are nothing but Leftwing virtue signaling.

        • M Snow

          And revenge.

      • FriendlyGoat

        1) Sorry your family members have had bad experiences. I do know that some environments are not “pie-in-the-sky nice” like I would prefer to paint them in a comment. I do believe though, that a lot of the secret to any organization’s tone will hinge on whether someone has imposed in policy, “We do not act like jerks here. We just don’t”.
        2) The “shame and guilt” lessons don’t sell correctly and shouldn’t be done.
        That’s the point of the article and the “take-away” for you and your family in real life.
        3) I do know that some (many) people start with little to offer to the job market.
        As a liberal, I believe we need to find job niches for them anyway—-as best we can—-because the rest of us want to live in a civilized society, and as Donald Trump might say (about other things): “You won’t have a country” (if too much of it is filled with druggies, with the homeless, with the under-employed doing crime as alternative, with too much demand for welfare-type services, with too many children being born to people lacking both sense and resources to raise them.
        When I was young, I once worked for company founders who had a lot of GOOD employees, and who also had some that were hard-pressed to “put sand in a rat hole” (as the saying goes). They were privately proud of being able to provide jobs to such folks and told me so. I found myself in my twenties looking up to those men who were then in their sixties. It was a lesson to me and I also found myself proud and grateful to be working for such people.

        • M Snow

          Thanks for the kind thoughts for my family members. I was lucky never to be subjected to the shame and guilt routine myself, but they would agree with the article that such lessons don’t work. Worse, they foster silent but negative attitudes towards the supposed beneficiaries of the indoctrination policies.
          Putting sand in a rat hole is a new one for me but it is appropriate for some. I believe finding job niches for all (but the truly disabled) is one of the greatest challenges we currently face as technology eliminates more and more jobs. I favor a shortened workweek, perhaps every other Friday or Monday off. This would have the advantage of stimulating the leisure industry. As a Las Vegas resident I might be a little biased. I would also consider expansion of tax credits for low wage jobs. It is disappointing that no one of either party seems to offer any solutions to the problem. The right seems to think the free market will fix it (it won’t) and the left keeps offering more soul-destroying welfare.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Las Vegas must be an interesting place to live. After the famous housing boom and bust there, is life normalizing again?

          • M Snow

            Yes, it started getting better about 4 years ago. Pretty much back to normal now. It was pretty bad for awhile. My son-in-law lost his job and it took over a year of constant job searching to find even minimum wage employment. Thanks for asking and yes, it is an interesting place to live.

    • JR

      The problem with diversity training is that not enough time is dedicated to explaining the glories of confiscatory taxation above some arbitrary level. Take it away, fg…..

      • FriendlyGoat

        Hard for you to believe, I know, but this is a different subject.

        • JR

          Impossible. With you, all roads lead to confiscatory taxation above a certain level? We can tie it to anything. how’s this???? Increase high-end taxes to make diversity training more diverse. We need diversity to appreciate diversity and what better way to pay for it than confiscating all wealth above a certain arbitrary level? Come on, work with me here.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Since when did you switch sides?

          • JR

            As long as we are confiscating wealth, can I confiscate some of yours? Judging by your political views, you should only be one step above destitute. IF i had to guess, with human nature being what it is, your own personal possessions are immune from redistribution you wish upon others.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I spent a life in free enterprise, paying plenty of taxes as an employee and as a successful operator of a very small (one person)service business.
            Never worked for the public sector. Not too rich and not broke.
            Retired (so I can have time to talk to you.)

    • Jim__L

      “If a person is accidentally hired who does not know right from wrong”

      Right and wrong, determined by Social Justice Warriors? No thanks.

      • FriendlyGoat

        When you appeal to people’s “sense of right and wrong”, you often get more right and less wrong. Most people know what the adult equivalent of middle-school taunting is and that it’s wrong.

        • Jim__L

          SJWs can’t tell the difference between right and wrong, it’s that simple. Molehill mountains they want to call “Microaggressions” are proof of that.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m not satisfied that there is any valid definition of what you call Social Justice Warriors. I’m also fairly satisfied that people know whether they intend to offend other people in a “micro” way or any other way, that they can get forgiveness if they offend other people unintentionally. If a well-intended person somehow offends another in and unintended “micro” way, and doesn’t give a hoot, he is not well-intended. If he cannot get forgiveness for an unintended error, he is not dealing with an SJW, he is dealing with a nut. Yes, the world has all kinds of nuts.

  • Y.K.

    What happened here is far simpler than ‘not liking being told what to do’. This is a de facto ‘affirmative action’ program which is administrated by those who would be the main losers from the program (given current ethnic/gender/etc. distribution of most management in America). The program gives them an incentive to *not* hire diverse candidate (at least not competent ones), since they may compete with them later using the same diversity criteria. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if the legal training helps the managers evade diverysity-based lawsuits better…

    There are two solutions:
    1. Remove the power of management (at least, ‘undiverse’ managers) on the hiring process. Since the federal government doesn’t have the competency to run all these businesses, and since this group is pretty rich and can fight off such pressures easily – this is completely unpractical.
    2. Redo the diversity program in such a way that the current managers don’t feel threatened – which is the recommendation of this blog.

  • TheyTukRJobz

    I remember my diversity training class 20 years ago.

    I could summarize that class in one sentence: You white, Christian, heterosexual men are the cause of all the problems.

  • Kevin

    Wow – brutally weak stats. Not a single one of the dozens of stats presented in the article talked about statistical significance. There was no mention of any attempt to control for confounding variables (other than off hand comments about the number of blacks and Hispanics in production, etc.) The paper has some interesting ideas, but is really more of a preliminary exploration rather than one that demonstrates any reliable conclusions. I’d fail an undergrad who turned in a research design this weak.

  • cecil2

    What’s missing is that people do NOT want diversity. They want their freedom, including freedom of association, and their nation back. PERIOD.

    1.White people exist.
    2. White people have the RIGHT to exist.
    3. White people have the RIGHT to exist AS White people in White Communities and Nations.

    Freedom now from this enforced, coercive, parasitic, anti-white, genocidal diversity. Its a crime, not a ‘policy option’
    My country was my home. Now its a hotel. And they want me to be a waiter. NO. #WhiteGenocide

    ONE Problem: AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS, ASIA FOR THE ASIANS, WHITE COUNTRIES FOR EVERYBODY IS WHITE GENOCIDE!!

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