Monday, July 6, 2015


What is diversity?  Do people who say things like, “You can just look around the room and tell there is no diversity” know what they are talking about?  Can they really tell by people’s outward appearances that they have all had the same set of experiences, the same psychological preferences and the same motivations?  To base diversity solely on what people look like naked seems to be a bit simplistic, but alas, that’s what it boils down to when the lawmakers get involved.

Companies are criticized for not meeting that particular definition of diversity and urged, sometimes forced, to change their standards.  These things are easy to measure, and progress, or lack thereof, is obvious to all.  As a result, they resort to highly visible remedies like diversity training, which has been going on now for decades.  But does it work?

According to a Harvard Business Review article from March 2012, the answer is, no!  The article is based on a study published in the American Sociological Review that looked at 829 companies over the period 1972 to 2002 to discover if diversity training resulted in a more diverse management team.  It showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace” despite spending millions of dollars on material, consultants and employee time.  “Attitudes — and the diversity of the organizations — remained the same.”  Furthermore, the research showed: “In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity.”

The author is not surprised, explaining his belief that “Anybody who has ever been scolded is familiar with the tendency to rebel against the scolding” and that “When people divide into categories to illustrate the idea of diversity, it reinforces the idea of the categories.”  By emphasizing the categories, he believes it undermines the efforts to get people to treat people with respect for their abilities rather than as merely members of a category, a category not necessarily in line with these legal definitions and that regardless may arouse resentment based on real or perceived special treatment.  Whatever the real underlying reason, it is unlikely that companies will discontinue this apparent waste of time and money since it is one of the few things they can point to when challenged in court.

Like school testing, the motivation for lawmakers to step in is usually the failure of current practices to meet objectives.  When they do, the result is more cost and more chaos than if organizations or industries had solved the problem independently. 

It should be the responsibility of companies to hire and promote workers and managers based on their ability to do the job rather than what the workers look like or how comfortable the hiring managers are.  They too easily forget that business is not about making the boss happy; it’s about making the customer happy – and that happy, competent, well-trained workers (not managers feeling comfortable or avoiding awkward confrontations) are the surest way to make that happen.  They like to complain about EEOC, Affirmative Action, OSHA, minimum wage and all the rest of the regulations and requirements to keep employees safe and respected, but these are burdensome (governmental) consequences of not taking their responsibility seriously enough!

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