Motives Mattter When It Comes to Diversity Training

Last Updated Jan 22, 2008 12:44 PM EST

Motives Mattter When It Comes to Diversity TrainingYesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day and across America people took a day off to mark the life and work of the civil rights leader. It's a day that spotlights the importance of diversity in the country, and by extension, in the workplace. Corporate America is taking up the challenge to better reflect the American population, spending between $200 and $300 million a year on diversity training. So is it money well-spent?

The Washington Post reports yesterday that when it comes to diversity training motives matter. Spending money on diversity training just to give your company a patina of inclusiveness or to avoid legal trouble is an exercise in futility:

A comprehensive review of 31 years of data from 830 mid-size to large U.S. workplaces found that the kind of diversity training exercises offered at most firms were followed by a 7.5 percent drop in the number of women in management. The number of black, female managers fell by 10 percent, and the number of black men in top positions fell by 12 percent. Similar effects were seen for Latinos and Asians.
The analysis did not find that all diversity training is useless. Rather, it showed that mandatory programs -- often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits -- were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company's business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.
It should be underlined that while forced diversity training seems to be counter-productive, actual diversity in the boardroom has been shown to improve the bottom line.

(Image of diverse street crowd by jonrawlinson, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.