Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Diversity Training

Interesting study on the efficacy of diversity training on promoting diversity in the workplace came out this week. The study looked at 31 years of data from over 800 workplaces. It found that after diversity training, the number of females and minorities in management positions actually declined (ranging from 7.5% fewer women to 12% fewer black men).

The researchers believe that these programs fail for two reasons. First, diversity training that is mandatory, imposed by a company, seems to bring a backlash with it. Second, many of the programs were not specific to the needs of each specific business and the issues it might have or skills it might need to improve to retain a more diverse employee base.

Why do I care about this study, you might ask, as it doesn't seem particularly relevant to my life as currently led? Well, I'm curious about things. Many, many things. And something I've always been curious about is diversity training in many different areas of life and the effect it has on those involved.

The idea behind diversity training is to achieve heightened awarenesses of our biases, as well as a heightened appreciation of the benefits of a diverse population in whatever area of life we are receiving that training. After going through this kind of training myself in several areas of life (church, volunteer organizations) and watching people react to it, well, I'm not really surprised to hear this study's findings.

It just seems to make those who are already wearing their biases on their sleeves cranky. Experiencing an attitude epiphany toward women or African Americans (or whomever their own nasty little secret hatred runs to) is rarely due to outside influences. Personal experiences change people's minds.

And what's the point, again, beyond being aware of biases and aware of positives? Yes, awareness is often the first step in making changes. But it is also usually the last step. Witness my relationship with food: Yep, I'm eating too much. I know it. Now pass me the popcorn, please.

It makes sense to me that successful sensitivity/diversity training would need to be specific. Why are we having this training? Is it because someone simply thinks it's a fine idea because it will look good? Is it because someone has accused the business or group involved of being racially insensitive? Is there truly a need?

If so, answer the need, ASAP. Ditch the generalized stuff and address the specific issue at hand.

Me, I'm more interested in improving things. And awareness seems a long few steps aware from improvement. Why not have training that is very task or group specific? An HR person who agreed with the study's findings said, "Programs that work focus on the business advantages that come with diversity of thought, and that requires having people with diverse backgrounds."

So figure out why expanding the diversity of your workplace would increase the bottom line, and act accordingly. Determine why helping your congregation and staff become racially sensitive would increase the number of African Americans who feel welcome to worship with you and address the situation. Or, if you'd prefer to be a little less business-like in your worship, assess what would Jesus do if his neighbors felt unwelcome at his temple.

But don't do it because it looks good. Do it if, and because, it is good. For everyone.



Blogger Suna said...

Hey! I just gave you a "You Make My Day" award on my blog. Read about it here, and post the lovely graphic on YOUR blog!

Thanks for being one of my favorite bloggers.

And I agree with you--it's always better to do something because it's the right thing than because you "have" to.

11:31 AM  

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