Mandatory Sensitivity Training Fails

Today’s Washington Post:

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.

… Today, U.S. businesses spend from $200 million to $300 million a year on diversity training, …  Kalev said many trainers and executives told her they were not surprised by her findings. … Businesses are responding rationally to the legal environment, since several Supreme Court rulings have held that companies with mandatory diversity training are in a stronger position if they face a discrimination lawsuit.

Imagine we had prediction/decision markets twenty years ago on this – could they have foreseen this outcome, and influenced the court to make different legal choices?

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  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com/ Chris Hallquist

    I’ll go out on a limb here and say “yes.” From what little I know of diversity training programs, they tend to be so simplistic and obnoxious that some people come out wanting to tell sexist jokes just to give a “take that” to the teacher. I think probably a lot of people noticed those kinds of problems, but they didn’t have any way of changing the system.

  • Douglas Knight

    Why would we have had decision markets on this? If the most interested parties were just doing it to avoid legal responsibility, they wouldn’t have wanted to risk losing their cover. Other people, activists or courts, could have used decision markets, but did they care?

    Historically, have methods that could be used to prevent people from lying actually been used? My impression is no.

  • Julian Morrison

    The root of the problem is force. You introduce force into any good cause, and you’ll pervert it – often into its own antithesis. As such, this outcome was simply predictable from day one.

  • http://rhhardin.blogspot.com Ron Hardin

    I was banned from mandatory departmental sensitivity training workshops.

    Bad attitude, they said.

    I sort of liked them.

  • http://badmedicine.quiblit.com alexa-blue

    Seems to me rather likely that the real root of the issue isn’t the forced obnoxiousness of diversity programs (it strikes me as implausible that people would want to come out of them more willing to intentionally harm black people), but that they insulate employers from civil rights lawsuits while offering little of real value to minority employees.

    Anyways, I don’t understand prediction markets, but the fact that unintended consequences make for fast selling books that with conclusions almost universally marketed to the lay press as “surprising” makes me dubious of their utility in situations like this.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/Unholysmoke/ Ben Jones

    Better question; what similar phenomenon can we identify now and cash in on in the future? What is the next ‘Sensitivity in the workplace’? At what point should I bet on ‘Non-Biological-Person Awareness Training’ resulting in increased discrimination against artificial intelligences?

    Betting on the consistency of human intolerance and insensitivity to make a quick buck – guaranteed to give you a warm glowing warming glow every time.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    Why assume such intentions on the part of the courts? That seems atypical for Robin, though I guess his “honest teen paternalism” also did that. Why not question the real meaning of diversity?

  • tcpkac

    Robin, I’m not sure how you see the markets intervening in the legislative or jurisprudence process. Any competent HR professional could have foreseen, and probably did foresee, the outcome, but I’m not sure that competent HR professionals would be the sort of people who play the markets. So that raises two questions :
    – would the appropriate expertise be funnelled into the markets ?
    – would the SC pay attention to a marketplace rather than to ‘expert opinion’, given the general perception of markets as being irrational ? Of course I’m being retrospectively optimistic in assuming that ‘expert opinion’ was consulted.
    That leaves open the question of what action or inaction might have lead to a better long term outcome, but that is probably off subject…

  • anonymous

    Similar effects were seen for Latinos and Asians.

    The result for Asians is quite revealing. Since Asians are in many ways a “model minority” which does not suffer as much from low job-market success or discrimination issues, it would seem that the unintended effects of training programs are quite real.

  • Timothy Scriven

    I suspect that the problem is with how sensitivity training is done.

    To give an analogy. When I was in high school we learnt a lot about values, personal ethics etc. It was trite. Everyone already understood it except a few who were sociopaths and thus presumably beyond redemption.

    To give an example we were taught about tolerance. It could have been done better. We could have studied in depth the root causes of intergroup conflict. We could have learnt about cognitive biases which predispose us to think that “they’re all the same”. We could have looked at the political philosophy undergirding multiculturalism and tolerance. We could have even examined economic evidence for the value of diversity. If nothing else we could have studied some truly good poetry on the experiences of immigrants.

    Instead we were told trite things which we had to repeat in “brainstorming” sessions. Why? I’ve got a theory; the designers of curriculums are payed to look like they are doing something, not to actually get anything done. A similar truth applies to businesses, their primary interest in this is to avoid being sued, and they care little about the “quality” of the product so the product is usually of bad quality. If diversity training were as interesting and enlightening as it could be the results might be different.

  • http://boysite.info/blog chris

    I was taught, in the name of “diversity” that “true” was the 10-point, correct response to the following proposition on my final economics exam in High school:

    Women can do anything that men can do – better!

    I, and the entire class, was forced, as a part of the course, to stand in my college human sexuality class and listen while a person screamed homosexuality-referencing profanities at me, in the name of “diversity” and “tolerance.” This was not a disciplinary measure; it was training so that everyone would know what it felt like to be called all of those names that aren’t worth repeating.

    I am repeatedly reminded by television commercials and movies that men are completely stupid and women are Goddess-sent divine beings sent to rescue us from ourselves.

    I was told by Sally Fields that if mothers ruled the world, there would be no god damned wars in the first place.

    I was told by Congress by VAWA, HRES 590, VAWA-II that men are the only possible causes of violence in the family.

    I’m sick of being told that because I have a penis, I am the enemy.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    Too bad, chris, you’re still the enemy.

  • http://brian-jaress.livejournal.com/ Brian Jaress

    I don’t think it’s helpful to ask whether a prediction market “could have” predicted something. Throwing darts at a board “could have” predicted this or pretty much anything else.

    Courts should give very little weight to prediction markets, relative to their accuracy. In other words, if a market turns out to be as accurate as an expert, the court should pay much more attention to the expert.

    That’s because markets don’t explain their answers. Using a market to come up with a general rule unfairly undercuts a person’s ability to argue that they’re an exception.

  • Amaterasu

    Our class?

    If I were a caucasian male, I would hire an attorney.

    It was hurtful abuse.

  • http://www.spicejar.org/asiplease/ Alan Bostick

    Keep in mind that correlation is not the same as causation.

    Maybe the mandatory programs cause more bias. Or maybe instead managers who are prone to bias might see mandatory sensitivity training as a Get Out Of Bias Suit Free card and act accordingly.