Study Finds That Mandatory Diversity Training Is Ineffective

HBRCoverThe cover story in the July/August issue of the Harvard Business Review is entitled “Why Diversity Programs Fail.” Over the past several years sociologist Frank Dobin of Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev, an associate professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, have conducted a number of studies on the effectiveness of diversity training programs in corporations. They found that mandatory diversity training programs actually have an adverse impact on achieving the goals of hiring more women and members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

The authors’ study of more than 830 companies in the United States found that five years after mandatory diversity programs were instituted at these companies the number of African American women and Asian American employees actually declined. And there was little or no improvement in the hiring of White women and members of other underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

The authors suggest that managers who are obliged to undergo training have a natural tendency to resent it. People don’t like to be told how to behave. The authors state that “we can’t motivate people by forcing them to get with the program and punishing them if they don’t.”

The authors recommend other strategies that may be more effective in producing a diverse workforce such as active recruiting and mentoring programs aimed at underrepresented groups, voluntary training, and the hiring of a diversity manager. They also recommend that diversity goals and results be widely publicized. Managers who meet goals can be rewarded.

While this study focused on corporate America, the study may be relevant to diversity efforts at colleges and universities as well.

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