Sunday, January 3, 2021

Why Diversity Training Fails

Diversity training is all the rage. Even staid corporations are hiring diversity trainers to help their employees overcome their implicit racial bias. 

It might be all the rage this year, but, in truth, Americans have been subjected to one or another form of anti-racism training for decades now.

There is, as the book says, nothing new under the sun. To be more precise, the book of Ecclesiastes says:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

This means that diversity training has been widely studied. All of the research shows that it does not work. David Brooks reported on it in the New York Times:

One of the most studied examples of this flawed model is racial diversity training. Over the last few decades, most large corporations and other institutions have begun racial diversity programs to combat the bias and racism pervasive in organizational life. The courses teach people about bias, they combat stereotypes and they encourage people to assume the perspectives of others in disadvantaged groups.

These programs are obviously well intended, and they often describe systemic racism accurately, but the bulk of the evidence, though not all of it, suggests they don’t reduce discrimination. Firms that use such courses see no increase in managerial diversity. Sometimes they see an increase — not a decrease — in minority employee turnover.

Quite true. It is difficult to reduce discrimination by enhancing everyone’s awareness of discrimination, and of race. These programs think of human interactions in racial terms. Why would anyone imagine that they are going to render people color blind.

In addition, the programs are intrinsically divisive. They divide the group into oppressors and victims. They accuse one group of exploiting and abusing another. They attack the pride of those who have been more successful, telling them that their success was ill gotten.

Brooks continues:

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev offered a clear summary of the research in a 2018 essay in Anthropology Now. One meta-analysis of 985 studies of anti-bias interventions found little evidence that these programs reduced bias. Other studies sometimes do find a short-term change in attitudes, but very few find a widespread change in actual behavior.

Dobbin and Kalev offer a few reasons these programs generally don’t work as intended. First, “short-term educational interventions in general do not change people.” This is as true for worker safety courses as it is for efforts to combat racism. Second, some researchers argue that the training activates stereotypes in people’s minds rather than eliminates them. Third, training can make people complacent, thinking that because they went through the program they’ve solved the problem.

Fourth, the mandatory training makes many white participants feel left out, angry and resentful, actually decreasing their support for workplace diversity. Fifth, people don’t like to be told what to think, and may rebel if they feel that they’re being pressured to think a certain way.

The last points deserve emphasis. People don’t like being told what to think, and these programs insist that there is only one right way to think. Presumably, if a white person considers that a black person is underperforming on the job, the only possible explanation is racism. The fault for underperformance will be white racism.

The programs do not allow each worker to be judged by his merits. They want to reduce everything to race. 

Brooks is happy to accept that bias exists, but he notes that diversity training can be counterproductive:

Implicit bias is absolutely real. The problem is that courses to reduce its effects don’t seem to work. As Greenwald told Knowable Magazine: “I see most implicit bias training as window dressing that looks good both internally to an organization and externally, as if you’re concerned and trying to do something. But it can be deployed without actually achieving anything, which makes it in fact counterproductive.”

Among the reasons it can be counterproductive is the simple fact that white people will feel threatened. They will do their best to avoid contact with people who can constitute a threat to their careers. And they will certainly not be inclined to speak openly and honestly with people who might report them for being racist.

Diversity training does not make black workers part of the team, to be held to the same standards as everyone else. It makes them a potentially disruptive force, a force that will happily shred the cohesion of the workplace in order to bring about the advent of something called social justice. Thus, diversity training will imply that blacks are less trustworthy, less dedicated to the company, less interested in the corporate bottom line and more concerned with promoting social justice.

As for the solution, Brooks offers this:

People change when they are put in new environments, in permanent relationship with diverse groups of people. Their embodied minds adapt to the environments in a million different ways we will never understand or be able to plan. Decades ago, the social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote about the contact hypothesis, that doing life together with people of other groups can reduce prejudice and change minds. It’s how new emotional bonds are formed, how new conceptions of who is “us” and who is “them” come into being.

The superficial way to change minds and behavior doesn’t seem to work, to bridge either racial, partisan or class lines. Real change seems to involve putting bodies from different groups in the same room, on the same team and in the same neighborhood. That’s national service programs. That’s residential integration programs across all lines of difference. That’s workplace diversity, equity and inclusion — permanent physical integration, not training.

This points to a more fundamental vision of social change, but it is a hard-won lesson from a bitterly divisive year.

And yet, this too has been tried, and has hardly succeeded. Witness the efforts to forcibly integrate American public schools. Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam showed that people who live in muticulturally diverse neighborhoods do not tend to integrate-- they tend to avoid each other, to hunker down. 

The sad conclusion is that all of the enhanced awareness of racism is likely to fuel more racism. Preaching the gospel of anti-racism and making people more acutely aware of their unconscious racism is more the problem than the solution.

Besides, if companies are now going to try to solve the nation’s racism problem by hiring and promoting more members of minority groups, the truth will remain-- these people will need to perform in their new jobs. And, sadly or not, when someone is perceived to have been hired or promoted to fill a diversity quota, he or she will not command the same respect as will someone who has worked his or her way up the ladder.

As Shelby Steele argued a couple of decades ago, in relation to affirmative action college admissions programs, these programs cast doubt on the achievements of anyone who might have benefited from them-- thus heightening, not diminishing, racial bias.


Anonymous said...

"Implicit bias is absolutely real."

David Brooks obviously knows nothing about so-called "impicit bias". I'm not saying he shouldn't "believe in it". After all, in a world that still entertains a Flat Earth Society, homeopathy, and publishes daily horoscopes in major newspapers there's obviously plenty of room for loony, bizarre ideas.

The basis for belief in "implicit bias" is the Implicit Association Test (IAT), attributable mainly to quack social psychologist Anthony Greenwald. As it happens, I'm interested in psychometrics and testing for many reasons, primarily because I'm interested in metrology (the point of psychological tests), and statistical modeling (the essence of psychological tests).

Measurement in general, including psychological measurement (psychometrics) and therefore the IAT (which purports to measure this will-o-the-wisp, implicit racism), has two cardinal parameters: validity and reliability.

Let's begin with a voltmeter. Are you measuring your voltage looking at a voltmeter, or are you looking at the ammeter by mistake? An ammeter, no matter how good it is, cannot measure volts. Ammeters are not valid voltage measurement instruments. Thus, if you are trying to increase the voltage in a device to accomplish a certain goal, mistakenly looking at an ammeter won't help you.

To illustrate the importance of validity in psychological measurement, one only needs to consult Griggs vs Duke Power (1971). SCOTUS ruled that Duke Power, which required a threshold IQ measurement to qualify Laborers for promotion, was impermissible because an IQ test is not a valid measurement that reasonably related to [i.e., correlated with] a Laborer's success after promotion to more skilled, higher-paying non-technical jobs.

Equally important is reliability. A measurement, or test, is reliable if one gets the same value over successive measurements. For example, if one has a 5-volt power supply, and measures the output with a voltmeter three times getting 4.1V, 7.2V, and 5.4V, either the power supply is broken or the voltmeter should be discarded. Successive measurements should be strongly correlated.

The IAT is neither valid nor reliable.

"The IAT, it turns out, has serious issues on both the reliability and validity fronts, which is surprising given its popularity and the very exciting claims that have been made about its potential to address racism."
--- J Singhal, New York Magazine 2017

It's a made-up test, like the Meyers-Briggs (made up by Katherine Briggs - who by the way believed that too much education would impair women's fertility - and her daughter). And made-up tests never work (consider the plethora of "creativity tests" and "self-actualization tests") because they are neither valid nor reliable. Naturally, the authors claim they have "face validity", which means they kinda-sorta look like they're measuring what the author claims they measure, but they fail to make useful predictions or diagnoses.

The IAT isn't even junk science. It's quackery. They threw Wilhelm Reich in federal prison for peddling his "orgone accumulators". Anthony Greenwald has arguably done one hell of a lot more damage.

trigger warning said...

Sorry, the above was li'l old me.
t. warning

Sam L. said...

Brooks is not a guy I have any confidence in. However, he is saying a few things I can believe. I suspect that Diversity Training makes things worse in an organization. Twenty years in the military taught me that we're all (mostly) in this together, and we have to get along with each other as best we can.

t.w.: I'm triggered, I'm warned. Good Job!! (Where'd that Silly bite me???)

Anonymous said...

Diversity training as it exists today is blatant racism. Simple as that. The intent is not to end racism but rather to benefit from racism. It is a power ploy which can be dressed in nice clothes and thus accepted by the weak and uninformed who will eagerly give up and give in to appease it. If you want real diversity training spend a Friday or Saturday evening till 3 AM the next day in the rough parts of Chicago or St Louis. IF you survive you will finally understand 'diversity'.

Anonymous said...

I can say that in my work place many of the females or minority based races create a lot of issues for managers. The first thing that happens if someone falling in that demographic screams if they are shown hard facts that they are under preforming, or acting in unprofessional ways (Say harrassing others or wearing attire that's not appropirate for the office enviroment) that it's obviously racism or the system is rigged against them or sexism. Nearly every single time that is the first things that is uttered and then the Union gets involved along with the EEO officer. It creates a lot of silent hostility as that usually works and the performance reviews are adjusted or outright not used to hold the person screaming unfair treatment accountable for bad behavior or performance. Guess what happens then? Everyone else White, male or minority alike that does do their job well gets to shoulder that additional work load. I see people treated as individuals even then, but it sure does harbor resentment when that sort of behavior is always the saving grace to keep a job because there are two different standards being held up.

David Foster said...

re Griggs vs Duke Power: in the same decision, the Court *also* ruled that high school diplomas could not be used as a requirement for promotion unless reasonably related to the job. It's not obvious what happened to this part of the decision.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious on its face that diversity training is a race hustle that makes a lot of money for companies that go around doing this ridiculous training.

Anonymous said...

P.S. They have to make sure "implicit bias" remains a feature of society or they won't have jobs. So they have it baked in to create more racism.

trigger warning said...


I doubt possession of a high school diploma would correlate with anything these days, including basic numeracy and literacy. It's kinda like a junior version of the Ed.D.

David Foster said...

TW...but if a high school diploma couldn't be used as a criterion for hiring/promotion absent some reasonable case for relevance, then one would think the same argument would apply to a college degree.

And also, Grigg vs Duke Power was in 1971...there were probably a good 10-15 years thereafter when a high school diploma was a reasonable indicator of basic literacy & numeracy.

I think *something* must have happened to water down the Education Credential part of Grigg...either legislation, or a later court decision.

n.n said...

Diversity of individuals, minority of one. #HateLovesAbortion

IamDevo said...

What Trigger Warning said, in spades. (Ooops, microaggression warning.) But please allow me to share the result of running the sentence, "Implicit bias is absolutely real" through my BS to English translator: "When people notice patterns and use the data to determine their initial response."

Sam L. said...

Can't say clubs, either. Hearts are great, and diamonds...are a girl's best friend. Though, of course, "girl" is right OUT.