It’s Time To Face The Facts: Diversity Training Doesn’t Work

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In the past 30 years, diversity training has become a mainstay of the corporate world, to the point that 67% of American companies have paid for some level of diversity training. This is a nice way of saying that 67% of American companies have been swindled. Reducing prejudice in the professional setting is a noble goal, but diversity training does not do that. Instead, it costs the American public 8-billion dollars a year and can end up exacerbating the problems it’s supposed to fix. All this so the latest problematic company needs to save their P.R. and avoid a lawsuit.

A study from 1995 found that diversity training fails to increase diversity or decrease harassment and discrimination. Another 2013 study reported that diversity training caused false confidence that led people to discount warnings of discrimination. Yet another study that surveyed 829 companies found that diversity training is ineffective at reducing stereotypes and can even lead to backlash from predominantly White men concerned about their careers. The researchers would conclude that “In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity.” 

Those negative effects have a name: the illusory truth effect, in which someone remembers the falsehood and not the correction. This means that Marjorie from accounting is more likely to remember that Jews control the space lasers and not the refutation. Unsurprisingly, a program that teaches people to view each other by only their minority status has failed at ending systemic bigotry.

Beyond the unfortunate side-effects of doing the opposite of their purported goal, diversity training also costs a small fortune. Diversity training can cost roughly $400 to $600 per hour, while a one-day training can leave you $6,000 poorer. Google has spent $114 million on diversity programs. Yet I am sure the diversity consultants who can make up to $107,000 a year are in it to make a difference, not for the money. America has spent 8-billion dollars on something that doesn’t work. We have been tricked into thinking that we have been fighting bigotry when instead we’ve been setting our money on fire.

If diversity training doesn’t work and robs you in the process, then why do they exist? Like many problems, the answer is politics. In 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was passed to enforce civil rights in newly diverse companies. When the EEOC thought discrimination was taking place they would require the company to engage in what would come to be called diversity training. The government’s promotion of impotent diversity training continues to this day with Tablet reporting that “In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education rolled out grant competitions worth millions in federal funding for school districts that integrated diversity programs.” 

Companies have also used diversity training as a way to avoid getting sued. While Morgan Stanley had to write out a 54-million dollar check to settle sex discrimination claims, Bank of America lost $160-million for race discrimination. Thus, the comparatively cheap rise of diversity training. Beyond the U.S. government and lawsuits, companies have paid for this training to save their image. Nothing says “woke superhero” quite like millions spent on appearances.

There is no easy answer to solving the failure of diversity training. If it was simple to end bigotry, then the viruses of sexism, racism, and homophobia would have gone extinct, yet clearly, they have persisted and thrived. Though there is no complete solution, we can still make meaningful data-backed changes to increase diversity and decrease prejudice. The first thing that can be done is to expand diversity training over longer periods of time. A study of 260 schools found that “The positive effects of diversity training were greater when training was complemented by other diversity initiatives, targeted to both awareness and skills development, and conducted over a significant period of time.” Though diversity training doesn’t work on its own and as a one-time deal, it could work in tandem with other methods and over an extended period of time. 

Next, blind applications, in which the name is omitted from the application, are a good way to increase diversity. In a 2003 study, it was shown that Black-sounding names had a more difficult time getting a callback than White-sounding ones. This issue of unconscious bias that caused Black applicants to be turned away would not be an issue if the names were not known in the first place. If it works for The Voice, it will work for the American public.

Diversity training is a failure, creating division and reinforcing stereotypes. It does all this while driving us bankrupt. What’s worse is that it has been allowed to grow through fear of lawsuits, the need for a P.R. boost, and the support of our own government. We, as an American society, need diversity training to work, but it doesn’t. It’s time to face the facts and fix diversity training.