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Why Diversity Trainings Have Been Ineffective

Are we a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) firm? Yes. Did we just admit that Diversity Training doesn’t work? Yes, we did. And we aren’t surprised they’re ineffective. Here’s why:

Sign that says wrong way

It puts the blame on white people

If DEI Training focuses too much on who is the problem and not why DEI is beneficial, then the buy-in will be low and the trust even lower. This approach often causes more backlash from employees who feel attacked.

“In the case of D.E.I., Dr. Dobbin and Dr. Kalev warn that diversity training that is mandatory or threatens dominant groups’ sense of belonging or makes them feel blamed may elicit negative backlash or exacerbate biases.” (NYTimes)

Learning about microaggressions, biases, and unfair practices towards minorities will be uncomfortable for most people, so it’s important to combat those feelings with something positive in the end. More importantly, it has to be connected to a person's role or job responsibilities.

Short-term educational interventions, in general, do not change people (HarvardStudy)

Anybody who has studied the same day for a test, then proceeded to forget everything on that test afterward, can attest to this. We’re human, and a one-time training– especially if it’s boring and not tailored to the company's needs or industry challenges will be forgotten.

Furthermore, educating people on something that challenges their fundamental beliefs can be difficult. Expecting people to care or change after a one-time training is asking for too much. It’s unrealistic and, quite frankly, foolish.

Mandatory Training makes employees feel controlled.

Mandating participation makes employees feel controlled, making diversity feel coerced. Since DEI isn’t necessarily a skill or safety practice, it’s easy to brush off or get upset about it being mandatory.

“A recent meta-analysis suggests that change in unconscious bias does not lead to change in discrimination. Discrimination may result from habits of mind and behavior or organizational practices that are not rooted in unconscious bias alone. This reinforces the view that employers cannot expect training to change the workplace without making other changes.” (HarvardStudy)

So how can a company do DEI, without Diversity Training?

First, companies need to give the reason for diversity training. And make it a good reason. This way, managers and leaders won’t feel attacked or forced, resulting in an open mind. Understanding how diversity can help the workplace, and people do their jobs better provides a new perspective on why they should pay attention and support the training.

Here are some examples of what to do along with DEI Trainings:

  • Mentorship Programs to help those interested in advancing their careers.

  • Management Training Programs (how to handle a diverse workforce and create an inclusive environment for employees to thrive).

  • Do your research when hiring a DEI consultant.

  • Understand what your company wants/needs to get out of DEI

  • Ensure DEI Training is tailored to the position level (C-Suite, Managers, Front-line workers).

  • Seek feedback from your employees and shareholders. And take action.

At the end of the day, DEI is not a quick fix. It’s been proven that when DEI is treated as a checklist or a bandaid, it costs a company more money and time– making the training ineffective. DEI is a long-term strategy that needs to be incorporated into your company’s existing business goal.


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