Tuesday, March 13, 2012
From Peter Bregman at Psychology Today:
Diversity training doesn't extinguish prejudice. It promotes it. ...
A study [Diversity Management in Corporate America] of 829 companies over 31 years showed that diversity training had "no positive effects in the average workplace." Millions of dollars a year were spent on the training resulting in, well, nothing. Attitudes — and the diversity of the organizations — remained the same.
It gets worse. The researchers — Frank Dobbin of Harvard, Alexandra Kalev of Berkeley, and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota — concluded that "In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity."
... When people divide into categories to illustrate the idea of diversity, it reinforces the idea of the categories. ... Categories are dehumanizing. They simplify the complexity of a human being. So focusing people on the categories increases their prejudice.
The solution? Instead of seeing people as categories, we need to see people as people. Stop training people to be more accepting of diversity. It's too conceptual, and it doesn't work. Instead, train them to do their work with a diverse set of individuals. Not categories of people. People.
Teach them how to have difficult conversations with a range of individuals. Teach them how to manage the variety of employees who report to them. Teach them how to develop the skills of their various employees.
And, while teaching them that, help them resist the urge to think about someone as a gay person, a white man, a black woman, or an Indian. Also help them to resist the urge to think about someone as "just like me" — that's a mistake too.
Move beyond similarity and diversity to individuality. Help them see John, not as a gay white man, but as John. Yes, John may be gay and white and a man. But he's so much more than that. Don't reinforce his labels, which only serve to stereotype him. Reveal his singularity. Don't ask: What are the dreams of a gay white man. Ask: What are John's dreams? What does he hate? What are his passions?
The antidote to the ineffectiveness of diversity training is the opposite of diversity training. If you want diversity, think about an individual, then another, then another.