US Companies Invest in Diversity Training, But is it Working?

By: Eva Zelson
On: August 28, 2020

With the Black Lives Matter Movement at the forefront of our minds recently, our communities are seeing a bigger push to incorporate more diversity in the workplace and educate employees about race discrimination and the value of diversity in the workplace. The big question is: are these training sessions actually effective? Below we discuss the impact that diversity training programs are having in the workplace.

Black Lives Matter
Does Diversity Training Really Work to Prevent Race Discrimination in the Workplace?

Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence shows that diversity training has not been as effective as hoped. In fact, a 2016 study by Harvard Business Review showed that while diversity training is effective at teaching employees how to properly respond to questions related to bias or race discrimination in the workplace, those lessons quickly fall by the wayside within a day or two. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that training tailored specifically to addressing biases and behaviors ultimately had little effect on changing employee behavior over time. The study concluded that companies often use negative messages in training sessions (race discrimination can lead to lawsuits), rather than positive messages (diversity can benefit the workplace environment). In some circumstances, the study found that the compulsory nature of the training session created resistance to the underlying message.

What are the Benefits of Diversity Training?

Although research shows that diversity training is not fully successful in reducing race discrimination at work, there is substantial evidence that there are benefits. Some of the notable benefits include:

  • They encourage employees to share ideas and concepts from a wider pool of employees
  • They promote employee collaboration and can instill a stronger incentive to work together
  • It causes managers to be more receptive to ideas coming from different levels within the organization
  • It can boost a company’s reputation, which can be essential in attracting talented prospective employees
  • It can make employees feel valued and heard

Why is Diversity Training so Important?

Diversity training is important because its ultimate goal is to increase diversity and decrease race discrimination in the workplace. Research shows that diversity brings many advantages to an organization. For example, more diversity has been shown to:

  • Promote problem-solving
  • Increase profitability
  • Widen perspectives within the workplace
  • Increase creativity
  • Diversity ideas and experiences among employees
  • Establish stronger workplace governance and foster better workplace relationships

More specifically, a Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with diverse management teams have up to 19% higher revenues, which they attributed to increased innovation.

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Does Diversity Training Work the Way it’s Supposed to?

Studies have shown that diversity training sessions do not always have the intended benefit of reducing race discrimination at work, however, this does not mean that diversity training is ineffective. Overcoming biases and small-minded behaviors in the workplace is a complicated and difficult task. It cannot be addressed with one simple training exercise, let alone entirely remedied in one sitting. In order to make diversity training effective, it must include several techniques, focuses, discussions, and programs that invite employees to become more receptive to change, rather than leave them feeling as though they are simply checking a box for a company requirement.

What Actions Can a Company take to Foster Greater Diversity?

Diversity training is a great start to fostering more diversity in the workplace. The first step that employers should take is to gather data about their company and the various approaches it takes to increasing and promoting diversity. Start with an understanding of your policies and procedures so that you can begin to identify where improvements are needed.
Employers should also diversify their training approach.

  • Offer voluntary courses along with mandatory training.
  • Focus on specific diversity issues, such as bias, race discrimination, gender discrimination, LBGTQ employees and employees with disabilities. This ensures that each of these issues is directly addressed and receives the attention it deserves.
  • Design and implement inclusion programs that encourage individuals of diverse backgrounds to move up in the company.
  • Normalize and reward collaboration and creativity from all employees.

Overall, make sure diversity is treated as a positive concept.

diversity thrives

What do Companies Need to do to Ensure Diversity Thrives in their Company Culture?

Achieving diversity in company culture often starts with management setting an example. Implementing diversity training is great, but employees are less likely to respond if they don’t see management involved in the process. Staying proactive and making diversity a priority is a company’s best bet for ensuring diversity thrives in their company’s culture and tamping out race discrimination at the office.

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