Saturday, March 20, 2010

More Thoughts on Insensitivity Training

Call it diversity training or sensitivity training, it is all the rage in the corporate world. Perhaps it is merely a prophylactic measure, designed to ward off lawsuits, but everyone does it, to the tune of billions of dollars.

Over the past thirty or so years the number of women and minorities in the workplace has greatly increased. In response companies instituted diversity or sensitivity training sessions to make the workplace more congenial and fair.

Diversity training sought to make everyone aware of differences, in culture, in background, in language, in life experience. You were no longer to assume that everyone was just like you. You were taught to assume that no one was just like you.

Those who took this seriously lost their connection to others at work. Diversity training had to promote an every-man-for-himself attitude.

Of course, that was not the promise or the premise. The wild-eyed idealists who trafficked in diversity training told us that these programs were necessary to allow women and minorities to gain their fair share of promotions and compensation.

Now, the studies have been done, the research is in, and the conclusion is clear: diversity training does not work.

As the Boston Globe reports: "... research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management." Link here.

Of course, the results have brought out the professional spinners, who have happily declared that the results do not mean what they say or say what they mean. If you would like to see how they spin the results, you may read through the Globe article.

More sober and honest thinkers have essayed to determine why the programs do not work. They say: "Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful... and more likely to rebel against what they have heard."

If diversity training teaches people that women and minorities can threaten their livelihoods, their futures, and their careers, they are not likely to seek out more interaction with women and minorities. The more certain groups become threats, the less likely you are to want to work with them, the more you will be on your guard when you talk to them.

Aside from the normal human tendency to rebel, and the normal resentment against being told what to think and feel, people who undergo diversity training will first be motivated to protect and preserve themselves against newly identified threats.

When you make one segment of the workplace a threat to the others, you are not going to induce voluntary compliance or good fellowship. We should not have needed too many studies to figure this out.

In the short space of a blog post I cannot survey all of the different types of diversity programs. As the reports show, mentoring programs work better than programs that involve thought reform.

I will, however, explain why I believe that diversity training that emphasizes sensitivity to differences must fail.

When you sensitize people to all of the ways in which they are different from everyone else, you are undermining team spirit and group morale.

What matters in an effectively functioning company is sameness, not difference. When you join a baseball team you do not look at your teammates for their differences. You all wear the same uniform, you all shower in the same shower room, you all belong to the same tradition. You want to establish how much you have in common with your teammates, not how diverse you all are.

And you are not likely to be giving your all for your team if you feel that someone else has gotten your starting job because the owners are afraid they will be sued if the team does not look like America.

I am not saying that the problem can be solved by declaring that we all share a common humanity. When you make a common humanity your standard you are promoting amorality and anarchy.

You do not have to do anything, to act in any particular way, to belong to the human species. People who do what is right and people who get things wrong are all human beings. This is not what is involved in finding out what you have in common with your teammates.

If you join a corporation or move to a new community, you will have to learn the customs and mores of that culture. Then, you will have to practice them assiduously, so that you can be like everyone else.

Admittedly, the faux individualism promoted by some sociologists will throw up its arms in horror at the notion of conforming to community or corporate standards, but if you want diverse peoples to be integrated into the workplace, that is, dare I say, the only way.

Instead of running diversity training seminars that make everyone hyperconscious of difference, companies should guide all employees toward accepting and adapting to a common culture, one that can be made available to everyone, regardless of race or gender.

And that should involve insensitivity training. You want everyone to be insensitive to difference; you want them to treat everyone as fellow employees with a common interest and a common culture. For some of my thoughts about the need for insensitivity, follow this link.

Beyond all that, these studies are especially striking for the issues that they do not address. They show no concern for how well businesses function, whether they are profitable, whether they do a good job at what they are doing, or whether employees like their jobs.

The bean-counter approach to diversity fails to consider anything but outcomes. It does not promote equal opportunity in the sense of offering everyone a level playing field on which to compete. If a company does not have proportionate representation of different races and genders at all levels of management, it is presumed, by the diversity police, to be practicing bias and bigotry.

But would you imagine that a manager who has been promoted to fill a diversity quota will command the respect of his staff, especially of those who have been passed over because they do not belong to the right group?

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