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“Study finds mandatory diversity training backfires”

In other words, water is wet. much to the surprise of people whose salaries depend on teaching everybody that it’s dry.

The Harvard Business Review examined and explained the problem.

The College Fix‘s article on it is here.

Money quote: “People often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy. Try to coerce me to do X, Y, or Z, and I’ll do the opposite just to prove that I’m my own person.”  [Read the whole thing, please; it’s well worth it.]

I have heard or read of many people have issues with the diversity programmes that they have had to take within their institution (be it a private corporation, government or the military), and I would posit that there are six other potential reasons, all of which I have run into either personally or professionally or in my studies.

First, the trainers can be biased or, well, jerks.  Trying to teach a room full of white people to accept diversity when the trainer seems to dislike or condescend to white people tends to get their oppositional backs up.   A sure-fire loser is a variant on that favourite tune of the intersectionalists, “only white people can be racist”.   Trust me, every single human being can be horrible for a multitude of reasons, and nobody has a monopoly on virtue or vice.  A racist teaching anti-racism just gets people to (correctly) tune out.

Second, the trainers don’t understand the organization or ethos that they’re speaking to, applying a one-size-fits-all program which is often wholly unsuited to the target group.  Military initiatives are particularly subject to this problem, given that the military is a very singular subculture whose very mission capability often rides on that subculture’s unique ethics and mindsets and social structures.  Breezing in and demanding civilian standards is often a fool’s errand, but one for which the fool is never blamed, only the men and women in blues and green.

Third, the trainers don’t understand the industry or its demographics.  Rah-rah’ing a company to make, for example, fifty percent of new hires to be women doesn’t work where women represent only a small fraction of the graduates in that field.  One has to be able to do something before someone else demands that one do it.

Fourth, compliance fatigue.  There’s only so many rules, policies and initiatives that a workforce can take.  After a while much of it, however necessary or worthy, becomes mere background noise.

Fifth, placing policy over purpose.  Folks who are big on the HR/policy side of things tend to forget that every organization has a purpose, be it fixing roads, building widgets, selling hope, or dropping bombs where the government tells it to.  Regulatory / mandatory burdens can demand higher and higher proportions of time and effort, taking away from the primacy of the purpose.  We’ve all met the type that doesn’t care if the work gets done as long as their form is filled out or their idea implemented, and in my humble opinion such personalities are sadly over-represented in diversity and regulatory endeavours.

Sixth, not recognizing success.  Canada is arguably one of the most diverse countries in the world, and that diversity is usually reflected in the workforce in one form or another, especially in large urban areas.    A lot of diversity programs seem to operate on the assumption that Canada hasn’t changed in its attitudes to women and minorities since, say, 1920.  Worse, (and related to Third, above), the demands often take place without considering who is already there.  The organization or industry might already be rich (or even top-heavy) with folks of the diversity target groups.   Telling an organization that it needs a special plan to hire, for example, more women and new Canadians when most of its management and staff are women and new Canadians is self-evidently baffling.

 

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