Mandatory diversity training often results in corporations hiring fewer women and minorities, according to a study published in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review.
The article, “Why Diversity Programs Fail” was co-authored by Frank Dobbin, a sociologist at Harvard University, and Alexandra Kalev, an associate professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University in Israel, who have spent years researching the effectiveness of corporate diversity programs.
The pair analyzed three decades of data on diversity initiatives at more than 800 U.S. companies. Five years after the programs were initiated, the researchers found, the number of African-American women and Asian-Americans on the employee rolls had actually declined. And there was little to no change in the number of White women and members of other marginalized groups.
Diversity programs often fail, the pair concluded, because corporations are using the same approaches that have been tried for decades—diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to avoid bias in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to aid employees in challenging discriminatory managers.
“Those tools are designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions. Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out,” the authors wrote. “As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy.”
Instead, the authors suggested strategies that engage managers in problem-solving and increase interaction with women and minorities, such as targeted college recruitment and mentoring programs, voluntary diversity training and hiring a diversity manager.