by Mark McGraw
Originally published: August 8, 2016
New research finds mandatory diversity training sends the wrong message to employees. Instead, experts urge HR leaders to make such training voluntary, and to take different approaches such as integrating diversity-related content into existing programs.
Diversity training: worthwhile endeavor or waste of energy?
Researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev pondered that question when they recently examined three decades worth of data on diversity training, culled from more than 820 United States-based businesses as well as interviews with hundreds of line managers and executives.
Dobbin and Kalev summarized their findings in the July/August 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review, where they pointed to volumes of past research that they say reinforce their overarching conclusion -- mandatory diversity training, however well-intentioned it may be, often misses the mark.
In fact, making employees attend diversity training likely does more to create resistance and animosity than to foster an environment of inclusion and acceptance, says Dobbin, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, noting that diversity training was compulsory at roughly 75 percent of the organizations that he and Kalev studied.
"We know from decades of workplace research by sociologists, and laboratory research by psychologists, that people dont respond well to having their arms twisted," says Dobbin. "Coercion tends to backfire."
Generally speaking, the approach to diversity training "is that you have to require it, or the people who most need to learn the lessons of training wont go," he says. "But our quantitative research shows that companies that make training mandatory actually see negative effects."