Diversity Classes Fail

A [literature survey] published last year … and found no empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior. Similarly, a 2008 literature review … found … there were few trustworthy studies – and decidedly mixed results among those. And research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity training programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management. …

Practitioners and some scholars disagree, arguing … the field as a whole has begun to figure out what works. The changes that training triggers can often be subtle, defenders argue, and, in a setting as dynamic and stubbornly multivariate as the workplace, it’s all but impossible to come up with the clear, falsifiable evidence social science demands. The poor results that do show up in broad-based studies, they say, are due to companies whose commitment to diversity training programs is merely pro forma, and who see training as just a way to protect themselves from lawsuits. …

What worked much better than even the best training … were more structural measures: minority mentoring programs, or designating an executive or a task force with specific responsibility to change promotion practices.

More here. So if courts would just clearly signal that they will no longer give firms legal credit in bias lawsuits for having diversity programs, firms would quickly stop, and we’d stop wasting billions.  Will courts do this?

Not anytime soon.  Admitting these programs don’t work would lower the status of legal elites who suggested they would work, and such elites can rationalize this expense as a signal of our society’s commitment to diversity.

The problem is that while “burning money” can indeed signal values, it can be hard to tell what values exactly it signals.  Elites might say diversity programs show our concern for to minorities, but observers may come to reasonably see them as showing only a concern for the high status of current legal elites.

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  • lemmy caution

    It is also likely that the companies themselves like the diversity training as a signal of effort. It isn’t just the lawsuits. Companies want to signal their good intentions and would prefer cheap rather than costly ways to do this.

  • Bill

    Is the converse true: does segregation increase tolerance?

    I look at some of the local charter schools in my city: a Somali charter school, a Hmong charter school, and, perversely, a charter school that sponsors the teaching of Latin.

    Perhaps you have to measure this against the past and against alternatives to make a decision on diversity training or diversity awareness. My own observation, as a lawyer, is that having to attend diversity training is informative, although it also makes you a little cynical. Like medicine that tastes bad, I always believe it benefits others and I didn’t need to take it.

    Maybe that is a bias also.

  • Popeye

    Is there any evidence that this blog changes attitudes or behavior?

  • Does this mean that Harvard, Stanford, etc must hire some professors with right-wing political views?

    • Bill

      They already do.

  • Bill

    I think this post really widely misses the mark as to why corporations have diversity programs: it is not to “burn” money, but it is to protect themselves and put the responsibility on the employee and to give the employer the right to can the employee for not following company policies.

    No, corporations like this stuff for prophalictic reasons and to point the finger at someone else.

  • Bill

    Oh, and the comment that this is done to protect “legal” elites, I would note that most of these programs are conducted by non-lawyers.

    Sort of like saying that economics classes are prepared to protect the economic elites.

  • John Forsberg

    “The problem is that while “burning money” can indeed signal values, it can be hard to tell what values exactly it signals. ”

    Why does there need to be any other signal than “I can burn money” or “I can force others to burn money”? Both shows plenty of power in a non-fakeable way.

    It might also be that it is low status to openly be against diversity in the social circles of most legal decision makers. So the risk of social shame biases them towards decisions which seems more anti-racist.

  • botogol

    attitudes are hard to measure but *behaviours* in the corporate environment most certainly have changed…I suppose the training could be coincidental unrelated, but something has caused behaviour to change.

    • John Forsberg

      Being openly racist or sexist can get you fired, sued, imprisoned in some countries and will get you socially shunned in large swaths of society.

      When it comes to changing expressed attitudes, or behavior, concerning racism or sexism a couple of hours sensitivity training seems utterly insignificant compared to the above factors.

      To me it seems much more likely that diversity sensitivity trainers has benefitted from changes in society at large than that they have caused even small changes in society at large.

  • David Friedman complains here about judges not being held liable for negligence in their decisions.

  • Thanatos Savehn

    One problem that invariably occurs when justices try to codify popular science is that they wind up chiseling into granite ideas that were fashionable for but a day. Whatever you may think of abortion there’s no better example than the silly trimester scheme embraced by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. Long after those bright lines were enshrined in the law we are slaves to them even though subsequent research has demonstrated them to be distinctions without any differences.

    Similarly, courts around the country are now demanding 20th century science, frequentist epidemiology, and rejecting 21st century science, molecular biology and any sort of Bayesian analysis, in cases involving causal claims about alleged toxins and cancerous or teratogenic effects. Why? Because, with few exceptions, judges are as fond of fads as anyone – but they get to make fads fadish forever.

  • AttilaTheBlogger

    It’s cheaper to pay for diversity classes than deal with potential litigation costs.