Diversity trainings are not enough (and sometimes even harmful)

Diversity trainings are not enough (and sometimes even harmful)

In an attempt to foster diversity and reduce prejudice, it seems obvious to send HR professionals and managers to diversity trainings. However, studies suggest that these are nowhere near as effective as anticipated. See why and what we can do for more diversity in this article.

Since the 1960s, there have been efforts to increase equal opportunities in companies - and since then similar approaches to promote diversity. Classic approaches include diversity training, performance tests and grievance systems. However, if you look around at the average company, diversity is often still not very high. This is one of the reasons why a study by Harvard University took a closer look at how effective such training is. The result: diversity training is not only not very effective, it can even increase discrimination.

Why don't diversity trainings work?

While they do create awareness on prejudice and discrimination in the workplace, what is learned there is in fact soon forgotten. If we are honest, the contents of diversity lectures or workshops are quickly put to the back of the priority list as soon as the stress of everyday work catches up with us.

Diversity training is particularly ineffective if it is not done voluntarily. This is because we have a tendency to resist something even more when it is imposed on us. In the worst case, biases are reinforced and the diversity training works in exactly the opposite direction.

In addition, an overconfidence bias can arise: If I have already participated in countless trainings on the topic of diversity, I believe that I know everything about it. If I now also see myself as an expert in the topic, like recruiters and managers, for example, I tend not to question myself any more. And to question less and less, when I have already done a lot of training.

But the problem with unconscious bias is: it is "unconscious" - we don't notice it! And trainings can't change our brain either.

What measures truly add diversity to a company?

So, we cannot rely on diversity training. Yet we should not stop - we must realise, however, that training is not enough.

Instead of telling employees to take part in diversity training and hoping that one day of workshops will miraculously increase the company's diversity, we should strive to ensure that employees and managers are intrinsically interested in the topic of diversity.

For this to happen, people need to be confronted with diversity and involved in problem-solving. Only in this way will everyone be encouraged in their own social responsibility on this issue and supported in the process of change. The following measures have shown positive effects in the past years:

  1. Sustainable diversity training on a voluntary basis: Employees who want to actively shape their environment in a more diverse way are able to further educate themselves, recognize their own biases, and learn more about effective measures for more diversity. Through voluntary registration, the intrinsic motivation of the employees to want to change something is given and the chances are much higher that the contents of the training will be taken up and implemented. A diversity manager can also provide support in this process by organising the diversity training and helping with change processes afterwards. There should also be opportunities for continuous reflection and refreshment.
  2. Targeted recruiting of women and underrepresented groups: Targeted recruiting helps to bring underrepresented groups into the company. This gives underrepresented groups a stronger voice and brings diversity into the company through different opinions and approaches.
  3. Diversity mentoring: Mentoring is another way to actively involve leaders in problem-solving and reduce prejudice. When mentors help their protégés in their personal development, they build a personal bond with them. If the desired performance is achieved, mentors are happy about the accomplishments of their protégés, no matter what gender or skin color they have. In this way, prejudices are reduced, and differences are accepted.
  4. Autonomous teams with regular interdisciplinary exchange: Autonomous teams are not primarily intended to promote diversity but have been shown to help increase contact between groups that would otherwise tend to keep to themselves. In this way, decisions are made, taking into account several different opinions.

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