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I’m Back…Diversity Training Takes Another Hit..But is it Warranted?

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, I’ve been away for 5 months working hard on the business of diversity.  Times are both good and bad, but I have adjusted and believe I have us moving in the right direction.  Enough of the business nuts and bolts talk…

The Boston Globe had an article that was very critical of the effectiveness of diversity training.  These type of articles seem to come out once every six months proclaiming how recent new findings have determined that diversity training is at best mostly hype and at worst potentially damaging to organizations.

Well, I am not going to defend the diversity industry and the training effectiveness of many diversity consultants.  Because, frankly most of it does stink.  But, what the author and the researchers fail to recognize is that diversity is an inherently difficult subject to measure because of it’s complexity and senstivity to its surrounding environment and context.  Most of the research studies sited in the article reviewed surface level aspects of diversity i.e race, gender, disability etc., and failed to account for some of the more subtle aspects of diversity such as differences in thinking styles, personality, and function.  As a result, I harbor some reservations about the usefulness of such studies.

However, that being said…as I said earlier most diversity training stinks and is highly ineffective in changing attitudes, behaviors, or systemic organizational structures.   But, the researchers are missing the key point.  It is not the training that is the problem, or the way the researchers measure the training.  The problem is with the mental maps the diversity consultants and the researchers use to view diversity.  Most diversity consultants don’t realize that organizational inequalities are the primary result of not surface diversity but instead are the result of the unconscious mind (biases).  So, instead of focusing on how to help people overcome their unconscious biases consultants instead focus their training on the conscious mind.  This method of training is reflected in good vs. bad training scenarios that find their way into current diversity training sessions.

Researchers, on the otherhand have a misguided mental map that views the subtle and dynamic interplay of differences from a mechanistic viewpoint.  Because the organization gave these many diversity training sessions there should be these many minorities and females  hired and promoted.  Unfrotunately, this system of research and measurement is somewhat unreliable in the wake of the vast pools of information that is available and relevant in today’s organizations.

What I suggest is the Diversity 2.0 approach which uses simulations instead of statisitcal analysis to ascertain the effectiveness of any initative, especially diversity training.  Simulations or agent-based modelling is the best method to sue in a world that operates on a dynamic basis.  It allows for subtlties of context and individual qualities while understanding that what emerges from the dynamic interplay of differences found in an organization is often unpredictable and often non intuitive.

Check out the article below but read it with a wary eye and the knowledge that it only presents a small part of the story…

Article

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/03/07/whos_still_biased/

Below is link to NPR where this research is discussed

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124495770

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