Friday, September 21, 2007

Diversity Training

Auditorio Dean Dad has this to say about diversity training.  Comments are welcome.

[T]he point of diversity training isn't to sensitize employees to diversity. Anybody with any teaching experience at all can tell you that herding a hundred people into an auditorium for mandatory consciousness-raising for ninety minutes won't work. It's terrible pedagogy, and virtually designed to fail; it's also insulting. If the point of the workshops were to change attitudes and/or behavior, those would be valid objections. But that's not the point of the workshops. The point of the workshops is to be able to answer a legal complaint alleging bias with “we take these issues seriously. See, we run mandatory workshops on them for all employees!” It's about defusing potential liability.

(Admittedly, this implies a shockingly low opinion of the judicial system. But that's another post altogether.)

If deposed, a manager can say “we provide x number of hours of training.” As with credit hours, what gets measured is seat time. Changed behavior and/or attitudes are devilishly hard to quantify, but seat time is remarkably easy. If somebody alleges, say, racism, and can prove some kind of different treatment at something (which is sort of like proving that the sun rose in the East), the burden shifts to the college to show that it isn't racist. (The presumption of innocence is remarkably weak in this area of the law.) You can't prove a negative, so the college has to use proxy measures. (Quick – prove you're not thinking about a polar bear!) Seat time in diversity seminars counts as a proxy measure. If the discrimination laws were more intelligently written and enforced – say, dispense with the requirement to prove a negative -- we could dispense with these Potemkin rituals. But they aren't, so we can't. If we did, we'd lose every case, whether it had any merit or not.

rb

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Comments

Although the final paragraph of the excerpt from Dean Dad shows that he has a poor grasp of the actual burden allocations under most discrimination laws, his objections to "diversity training" strike me as not wholly off base.

In my experience (at the EEOC among others), training that is provided by a good attorney and is unabashedly focused on risk management and liability limitation (e.g., teaching supervisors properly to recognize, investigate, and respond to complaints of discrmination and harassment) may lack the feel-good kumbaya atmosphere of the typical "diversity training," but in the end provides a better result in terms of protecting employees from discrimination/harassment and employers from unnecessary liability.

When I drafted EEOC consent decrees and the like, I refused -- unless directed by my superiors -- to require "diversity training" for some of the same reasons that Dean Dad identifies. I also found nearly every provider of diversity training in my geographical region to be an utter huckster.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 21, 2007 10:56:34 AM

I question the premise that diversity training (DT) is done by employers with foresight seeking to buy evidence of non-discrimination. I agree DT exists due to buyers; it's market driven. Regardless of value (e.g., behavior modification) or hucksterism (and who doesn't need a good kumbaya every now and then?) DT isn't foisted on unwilling employers/buyers.

Despite a potential use for all sorts of employment law compliance training, a decade in the business suggests that most employers are only willing to buy (i.e., get out the wallet for) (1) anti-harassment training, (2) introductory "employment law for managers," and (3) "diversity training."

What that last one is -- "diversity training" -- depends on the employer's diversity challenge/problem (new location, recent RIF, new language/ethnicity in the workforce, etc.).

And generally, the purchase is only made after the horse has left the barn -- they've already had the problem with the strippers at the managers' party, or the disability discrimination claim, or the religious slurs, or the noose in the break room, or the offensive graffiti, or the riot at the company picnic -- and only afterwards is it time to address "diversity," so they buy DT.

Ineffective training is a waste of time; however, creating a socially-lubricated and communicatively-effective workforce takes more than simply avoiding illegal harassment (e.g., note the recurring interest in workplace "bullying," and the frequent citation that "civility" is outside the scope of Title VII).

Employees (as we all) have to deal with change, conflict, and communicating with people unlike themselves; if employers want them to do these things productively, effective training seems like a good idea.

Posted by: kent | Sep 21, 2007 2:50:21 PM

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