Paul L. Caron

Thursday, January 19, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: What If Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?

New York Times Op-Ed:  What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?, by Jesse Singal:

Diversity trainings have been around for decades, long before the country’s latest round of racial reckoning. But after George Floyd’s murder — as companies faced pressure to demonstrate a commitment to racial justice — interest in the diversity, equity and inclusion (D.E.I.) industry exploded. The American market reached an estimated $3.4 billion in 2020.

D.E.I. trainings are designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on. The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.

Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is “disappointing,” wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, “considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct.” ...

Other researchers have been similarly unimpressed. “We have been speaking to employers about this research for more than a decade,” wrote the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018, “with the message that diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around.” ...

The history of diversity trainings is, in a sense, a history of fads. Maybe the current crop will wither over time, new ones will sprout that are stunted by the same lack of evidence, and a decade from now someone else will write a version of this article. But it’s also possible that organizations will grow tired of throwing time and money at trainings where the upside is mostly theoretical and the potential downsides include unhappy employees, public embarrassment and even lawsuits. It’s possible they will realize that a true commitment to D.E.I. does not lend itself to easy solutions.

David French (The Dispatch), The Most Important Thing You Read Today:

[T]he most important thing you’ll read today is ... by Jesse Singal, an incredibly sharp writer and podcaster who’s written a number of invaluable pieces (and a book) that take aim at received conventional wisdom and shoddy science. And in his piece today, he takes on diversity training. His thesis is simple—not only does most of it not really work, it sometimes does more harm than good. ... As Singal notes, while there’s not much evidence mandatory diversity training improves workplace outcomes, there is evidence it can fuel a backlash. And when diversity training emphasizes group blame, it can actually exacerbate biases. ...

[I]t can be discouraging to know that big problems aren’t amenable to simple solutions. There isn’t and can’t be a five-point-plan to save faith, to rebuild the family, or to end racial discrimination. The efforts that matter—that really matter—tend to be more individual, more long-term, and more driven by relationships and experience, not by preaching or instruction.

Above all, however, we should be humbled. Too often we attack cultural challenges with a spirit of misplaced certainty. We feel like we know what’s wrong, and we know how to fix it, and when we know we’re right, opposition is frustrating at best and infuriating at worst. The more certain we are, the more likely we are to view opponents not just as wrong, but evil. Do they not want to solve our crises?

Jesse’s piece was about diversity training, but it was also, ultimately, about human nature. It’s a reminder that we often don’t know what we think we know and that people simply aren’t as malleable as we might hope (or fear). It’s hard to know what really matters. ... People do change, but the how or why often defies simple explanation. Understanding those distinctions can and should shape the way we approach the public square. 

John Saller (National Association of Scholars), How DEI Is Supplanting Truth as the Mission of American Universities

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