Does Diversity Training Work?
As our workforce becomes increasingly diverse, organizations look to training to increase communication and collaboration and reduce conflict. Diversity training is defined as any program designed to facilitate positive intergroup interaction, reduce prejudice and discrimination, and generally teach dissimilar others how to work together effectively (Bezrukova et al. 2012)
But does diversity training deliver? A recent review suggests that the most common approaches to diversity training might not be effective in accomplishing organizational goals (Bezrukova et al. 2012). In fact, research has demonstrated that diversity training at it’s worst can actually lead to increases in both implicit and explicit expressions of prejudice (Legault et al. 2011). So how can organizations ensure that diversity training does “more good than harm?”
Begin by using evidence-based strategies in diversity training initiatives.
- Reduce us vs. them mentality. Perspective taking, or the act of considering the psychological experiences of others, reduces prejudice by requiring individuals to think about what it would be like to be a member of a different group, which serves to break down in-group versus outgroup barriers and more generally reduces an ‘‘us versus them’’ mentality (Galisnky et al. 2005). Perspective taking fosters empathy within training participants (Madera et al. 2011). Individuals who are highly empathic are tuned into to the needs of diverse populations and thus internally motivated to respond without prejudice toward them.
- Aim high. Ask trainees to set high-quality goals aimed at promoting inclusion within an organization and within themselves.
- Consider your audience. Research has shown that some individuals benefit from diversity training more than others. Individuals who are already highly empathic may see less dramatic outcomes, while those who are less emphatic may benefit the most from diversity training interventions (Lindsey et al. 2014).
- Tell them what works. Include case studies about organizations where diversity serves as a competitive advantage (see Cirque du Soliel, Google, The Metropolitan Opera, and Cityside Financial Services).
What not to do in diversity training.
- Don’t single out groups. Programs that emphasize learning about one particular demographic group at a time sharpens differences between participants and can lead to conflict and negative feelings. Training that focuses on a more general, positive, and inclusive approach may be better received by all participants.
- Don’t bore your audience. Diversity training that includes only lecture is less effective than incorporating a variety of instructional techniques, such as role playing, lectures, experiential exercises, discussion, etc.
Bezrukova, K., Jehn, K. A., & Spell, C. S. (2012). Reviewing diversity training: where we have been and where we should go. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11, 207–227.
Galisnky, A. D., Ku, G., & Wang, C. S. (2005). Perspective-taking and self-other overlap: Fostering social bonds and facilitating social coordination. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 8, 109–124.
Lindsey, A., King, E., McCausland, T., Jones, K., & Dunleavy, E. (2013). What we know and don’t: Eradicating employment discrimination 50 years after the Civil Rights Act. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 6, 391–413.
Madera, J. M., Neal, J. A., & Dawson, M. (2011). A strategy for diversity training focusing on empathy in the workplace. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 35, 469–487
Questions for discussion. . .
- What experience have you had with diversity training? What worked, what didn’t?
- How can we make diversity training more effective?