The majority of employees in large organizations are required to sit through at least one diversity training initiative a year. The conventional wisdom holds that education, sensitivity and awareness are key to reducing discrimination and creating a more inclusive workplace. However, it is rare that the workers themselves agree; most find sitting through them to be drudgery, knowing that they are largely a cosmetic response to internal or external complaints.
These employees might rejoice at the results of a new study, “Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies,” from a team of researchers from Berkeley, Harvard and University of Minnesota which found that the kind of training exercises offered at most firms were followed by a decrease in management participation by women and minorities, as much as 12 percent.
However, it didn’t find that all diversity training was useless, rather that those that were mandatory, created in the interest of furthering business goals, emphasized the risk of discrimination lawsuits or in the interest of redressing historical wrongs–that is, those that seemed cosmetic or reeked of inauthenticity–were the ones that had no impact.
Whether this will have any quick or immediate change on businesses that are now spending from $200 to $300 million per year on such training remains to be seen. However, if it is any consolation, such diversity-inspired events appear to have the same effect on a former U.S. president.