Sunday, January 20, 2008
From The Washington Post…
Most Diversity Training Ineffective, Study Finds
By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Most diversity training efforts at American companies are ineffective and even counterproductive in increasing the number of women and minorities in managerial positions, according to an analysis that turns decades of conventional wisdom, government policy and court rulings on their head.
A comprehensive review of 31 years of data from 830 mid-size to large U.S. workplaces found that the kind of diversity training exercises offered at most firms were followed by a 7.5 percent drop in the number of women in management. The number of black, female managers fell by 10 percent, and the number of black men in top positions fell by 12 percent. Similar effects were seen for Latinos and Asians.
The analysis did not find that all diversity training is useless. Rather, it showed that mandatory programs -- often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits -- were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company’s business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.
The origins of diversity training trace back to the civil rights movement and the belief that education, sensitivity and awareness are key to reducing discrimination. While many companies have embraced such training as a way to make workplaces more inclusive and to cater to an increasingly diverse customer base, trainers and researchers note that other companies use “sensitivity training” superficially -- as a cosmetic response to complaints from internal and external critics.
Today, U.S. businesses spend from $200 million to $300 million a year on diversity training, but the new study is one of the first attempts to systematically analyze its impact. What it found is that programs work best when they are voluntary and focus on specific organizational skills, such as establishing mentoring relationships and giving women and minorities a chance to prove their worth in high-profile roles.
“When attendance is voluntary, diversity training is followed by an increase in managerial diversity,” said Alexandra Kalev, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, who led the research. “Most employers, however, force their managers and workers to go through training, and this is the least effective option in terms of increasing diversity. … Forcing people to go through training creates a backlash against diversity.”
[Read the full story here.]