Civil Liberties

Corporate Diversity Programs Still Suck


"Hi, I'm Michael Scott and I'm in charge of Dunder Mifflin Paper Products here in Scranton, Pennsylvania. But I'm also the founder of Diversity Tomorrow, because 'today is almost over.' Abraham Lincoln once said, 'If you are a racist, I will attack you with the North,' and those are the principles I carry with me into the workplace."

Do corporate diversity programs work as advertised? The Boston Globe looks at the literature:

A paper published last year by the psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and the Yale University political scientist Donald Green comprehensively surveyed the literature on prejudice reduction measures and found no empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior. Similarly, a 2008 literature review paper by Carol Kulik of the University of South Australia and Loriann Roberson of Columbia University found that, on the question of changing behavior, there were few trustworthy studies - and decidedly mixed results among those.

The studies that Paluck and Green had to work with "often comprised little more than asking participants to fill out surveys on their own attitudes." Recently, though, some sociologists from the Universities of Arizona and Minnesota conducted a much meatier analysis:

As a measure of program success, they looked at the number of women and minorities in a company's managerial ranks - a much more concrete metric than the surveys of employee attitudes that many other studies relied on. The researchers drew on 31 years of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data, specifically the annual reports that companies file detailing their racial and gender makeup. The sociologists then surveyed 829 of those companies on what diversity programs they had and when they instituted them. The results were described in a 2006 study, and in another paper that Kalev and Dobbin are currently writing.

The researchers found that while diversity training was by far the most popular approach, it was also the least effective at getting companies to hire and promote women and minorities. Some training programs were more effective than others: Voluntary programs were better than mandatory ones, and those that focused on the threat of bias and harassment lawsuits were worse than those that did not. But even the better programs led only to marginal changes. And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits - the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined - slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management. Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they've heard.

[Via The Progressive Review.]