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Diversity training doesn't work

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jun 29, 2022

Most utilities these days are interested in being inclusive and providing a comfortable work environment to all their employees, no matter their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. This interest, of course, rose in 2020 during and following the George Floyd protests. Unfortunately, that rise in inclusivity interest wasn’t met with much new knowledge on how to foster it. And it turns out the preexisting knowledge was pretty faulty. 

Matt Yglesias recently posted an in depth post on what’s known about reducing biases. Discouragingly, if you’re to believe Matt and the studies he quotes, the diversity trainings so common in the corporate world have, at best, no impact: 

“Do people who undergo training usually shed their biases? Researchers have been examining that question since before World War II, in nearly a thousand studies. It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash. Nonetheless, nearly half of midsize companies use it, as do nearly all the Fortune 500.

Some of the backlashes can be very bad. Leigh Wilton, Evan Apfelbaum, and Jessica Good find that emphasizing themes of multiculturalism can increase subjects’ belief in race essentialism (consider Tema Okun’s work in this light) while Madeline E. Heilman and Brian Welle find that when teams are assembled with an explicit diversity goal in mind, women and Black group members are perceived as less competent, and “this effect occurred regardless of the proportional representation of women or the degree of the groups’s heterogeneity.”’

Matt goes on to highlight some things that do change peoples’ minds for the better: canvassing and diversity itself, notably. Canvassing doesn’t seem to have a place in the workplace, of course. Diversity does. 

It’s quite discouraging that diversity trainings are so ineffective. Managers, however, are unlikely to scrap them anytime soon because they’re seen as an important mitigator against lawsuits. Hopefuly, someday, they’ll be more than just that.


Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jul 1, 2022

Interesting Post Henry - I found this quote interesting "The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash." - specifically the last sentence.


Kenneth LaBry's picture
Kenneth LaBry on Jul 5, 2022

While I agree that diversity training is unlikely to change attitudes or ingrained bias, it can direct behavior such that it can emphasize that certain behaviors will not be tolerated and the open display or targeting of bias and non inclusion will not be tolerated. While it is not effective for attitude modification it can be effective for behavior modification.

Henry Craver's picture
Thank Henry for the Post!
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