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.