Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Imagine that you are a Human Resources manager. You are managing a culturally diverse workforce. If you are living in America, you are naturally afraid of being sued. But you also know that your people need to learn how to get along. Otherwise they will never be able to work effectively.

If you are a creature of the times you will decide to subject everyone to diversity training. It is the culturally accepted way of promoting tolerance and other warm fuzzy feelings.

Besides, someone has to keep all of those diversity trainers in business.

American corporations have been awash in diversity training. Now, it turns out, it has not been solving the problem. In fact, it has been aggravating the problem.

Companies that have showered their employees in diversity training are suffering a wave of diversity-based lawsuits.

Yesterday Peter Bregman stated it loudly and clearly: “Diversity training does not work.”

Why should this be so?

Diversity training celebrates diversity. It teaches everyone to embrace diversity. It attempts to create a workplace environment that shows full respect for everyone’s different culture.

In other words, it makes the company into a Tower of Babel. We know how that worked out.

Companies cannot function when everyone is defined according to their membership in a different culture. Companies, like teams, can only succeed when there is one culture. That is, when everyone is playing the same game by the same rules. What we really need is uniculturalism.

Remember the old line: e pluribus unum: out of many, one.

Diversity training, like other forms of sensitivity training, divides people into subgroups. Identifying people by their membership in a subgroup does not unify; it divides.

Diversity trainers and sensitivity trainers believe that you can solve problems by raising consciousness and awareness. People are told that they must be aware of how everyone is different. Then they force everyone to bathe in a tub of warm empathy. They imagine that once you know what it feels like to be like someone else you are going to be more tolerant. Everyone will then get along better and the world will be a better place.

The naiveté is breathtaking.

When diversity training divides the team into subgroups and raises conscious about what it means to belong to a subgroup, it does not produce understanding and comity. Just the opposite.

Bregman states it well: “Diversity training doesn't extinguish prejudice. It promotes it.”

Why so?

Bregman explains:

study 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."

Which shouldn't come as a surprise, actually. Anybody who has ever been scolded is familiar with the tendency to rebel against the scolding.

But it's deeper than that. When people divide into categories to illustrate the idea of diversity, it reinforces the idea of the categories.

If your team mates are prominently identified as members of subgroups then their loyalty to the company will be thrown into doubt.  

Diversity training teaches everyone that certain members of the team have a divided social identity. A divided identity means divided loyalty.

Is the member of subgroup X doing what is best for the team or doing what is best to advance the agenda of subgroup X?

If you do not know, if your consciousness has been raised to the point where you cannot know, then you are more likely to distrust members of the subgroup.

Thus, Bregman states, diversity training produces prejudice.


Ari said...

Robert Putnam studied diversity. His conclusion, it destroys social capital. See:

John Derbyshire notes that Putnam in his introductory and conclusory remarks tries as hard as he can to put a happy face on it. But the middle section, the one with the data paint a very different picture.

Diversity is bad.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Actually, I had posted about Putnam's study a few years ago... but I had forgotten it.

Here's the link: http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/2008/10/who-do-you-trust.html

David Foster said...

There's another kind of diversity which doesn't get nearly as much attention: diversity of personality types.

Quite a few years ago I attended a management course at which a Jungian psychologist was an invited speaker. He made the point that you should consciously attempt to hire people whose personality types are dissimilar to your own; otherwise you will all have the same blind spots and happily march off the cliff together.

In Myers-Briggs terms, an introverted intuitive white man may have more in common with an introverted intuitive black man than he has with an extroverted sensation white man.

LordSomber said...

It was always my impression that "diversity training" was not for the benefit of the employees, but to reduce liability for the employer. But then, I can be cynical.

n.n said...

"When in America, do as the Americans do" is a traditional adage which remains relevant today. Fortunately, Americans are not Romans.

David, LordSomber:

Diversity of individuals. Anything else is, by definition, prejudiced, and subject to exploitation, and both legal and non-profit revenue generation cycles.

Anonymous said...

"Diversity training teaches everyone that certain members of the team have a divided social identity. A divided identity means divided loyalty."
Although I'm not a fan of diversity training this comment sounds wildly unsound. Identity and cultural habits breeds feelings of inclusion and exclusion. You can see the results from prep schools to blue collar schools. Discomfort and uncertainty is remedied by loss of fear and selfishness.