The average corporate diversity training program will likely fail in a year or two. If you’re in the process of developing one, stop.
Let me start from the beginning.
Corporate America, specifically the financial sector, amped up diversity training programs in the late ‘90s to early 2000s after a series of high-profile lawsuits. Soon after, other industries jumped on the bandwagon. Before then, diversity programs were few and far between. Organizations used discrimination as its defined in the Civil Rights Act as the foundation of these programs—something that still rings true to this day. We know now that there are more avenues for organizations to discriminate (and still growing). These training programs founded on decades of outdated thinking are doomed before they even have a shot.
After an analysis of 30-years of data gathered from hundreds of interviews with execs and employers, we learned that mandatory diversity programs are counterproductive. Diversity hiring quotas, training, and other agendas can increase workplace bias and decrease demographic diversity.
So, how do you make an effective mandatory diversity program? You don’t. Here’s why.
4 Reasons Why Diversity Programs Fail
Humans are hardwired to rebel against force-fed behavior
Humans rebel when they’re forced to adopt rules or behaviors rather than acquiring them on their own. Social scientists have long since proved it’s a way for us to assert our autonomy. There’s evidence, too. Over 40-years of research proved that mandatory training could actually trigger anger and resistance among employees. Some participants reported more animosity toward diversity groups once the training ended. A separate 5-year study further supported these results, revealing that participating companies hired fewer people of color over the duration of the study.
Negative language triggers negative behavior
Over half of all diversity training programs are riddled with negative language that blames, shames, and threatens its audience. Turns out, blame and shame weaken an individual’s desire to change. Remedial training programs have similar effects. When employees are required to attend training as a way to remedy a complaint, for example, they feel alienated; they’re the worst of the worst; they’re publicly punished. In exchange, these individuals tend to resist the message. I mean, are we surprised? There are such things as positive incentives, not negative. And it’s called positive reinforcement for a reason, isn’t it?
Decision-makers feel threatened by diversity
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that high-status individuals feel threatened by pro-diversity organizations. When these folks imagined applying to pro-diversity organizations (vs. neutral ones) and participated in hiring simulations, these were some of the results:
- White men who applied to pro-diversity organizations felt that they’d be treated unfairly or subject to anti-white discrimination
- White men made a poorer impression during the interview process
- Participants demonstrated higher cardiovascular events and stress
This begs the question: if the decision-makers are afraid of diversity, how can they foster an inclusive environment?
Diversity training and inclusion efforts are insincere
Organizations that are pro-diversity and promote corporate responsibility (CS) attract harder workers who are, in some cases, more likely to accept less pay. Diverse teams are more creative and better problem-solvers. So, companies use diversity training programs and other diversity-centric ideologies as a talent magnet. Once hired, employees realize the truth about internal diversity and inclusion initiatives: it ends with recruiting, hiring, reputation management, and box checking. The result? Turnover. Failure.
There’s a way forward
Want to show your company is dedicated to diversity? Get to know the difference between diversity and inclusion. Are you really looking to get new perspectives in the office or do you just want to avoid looking like you aren’t including people? It’s a thought many people aren’t aware that they are thinking. Get to the root of what you want– then you might be on to something.