Rethinking diversity training

by Sarav Desai (‘24) and Semira Arora (’25) | March 31, 2023

Art by Matthew Tran (’23)

Recently, terms like “diversity, equity, and inclusion” are populating 9-5 company culture. Although the terms within diversity training may sound like buzzwords, they intend to facilitate group interaction between people of various populations as a means to reduce prejudice and discrimination. From seminars to online courses, diversity training has become a mainstay of the modern-day workplace. 

Studies on topics regarding inclusion, such as implicit bias, have shown that diversity training is one of the more effective methods of combating exclusionary practices. Usually consisting of mandated online modules, diversity training is now practiced by a majority of companies. However, only a fraction of the U.S companies that implement these practices actually measure their results, and some studies show that diversity training can have the opposite of the intended effect. With the results of these practices being mixed, the question now becomes, for whom are we diversity training?

While pessimistic, it’s worth considering the possibility that some companies implement these programs as a public relations stunt. For example, after an incident at a Starbucks where the police were called on two innocent Black men, Starbucks closed all of its stores for one day to hold racial bias training. Experts have repeatedly pointed out that this type of short-term training is extremely ineffective. Starbucks continued business as usual after the day of training, as if letting the event dissipate with time. Other companies such as Amazon and Sephora have had similar encounters, but these companies have not made much progress after the racist incidents abated. These incidents suggest the uncomfortable notion that companies do diversity training as a form of damage control, rather than to actually improve their workplaces and combat racism.

Despite the possibility of companies utilizing diversity training as a way to improve their public standing, it is crucial to note that companies that focus on diversity also enjoy some benefits. Studies have shown that companies with more diverse staff generate higher profits. Diversity training also aims at improving cooperation in the workplace and can help produce a better, safer work environment. Whether companies are incorporating diversity training for selfish reasons or not, the implementation of these values certainly has its benefits.

The question of why we are diversity training is a complex one. It is possible that it is a part of a growing trend of pseudo-wokeness amongst large companies, all in the pursuit of ever-increasing profits. Much of the training itself is well-intentioned, but the results have been mixed at best. As this movement is still relatively new, we don’t have all the answers yet, but time will tell us if these programs are truly effective.

Categories: Opinions

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