Diversity programs have enjoyed worldwide adoption across thousands of businesses following several famous class-action lawsuits in the 1990s. But while millions of dollars are spent each year on such programs, the results are lackluster at best — and saddening at worst. Study after study shows that traditional diversity programs simply don’t seem to work. What’s worse, they often have the opposite result as intended.
How can these programs get it so wrong? The fundamental flaw in these programs seems to be their all-or-nothing approach. Participants are told to follow set instructions or pay the price. There is no room for nuance or discussion, no process to encourage growth.
This doesn’t work for one simple reason: most people don’t like being told what to do. They don’t like being forced into actions or thought processes. They react to these programs with anger, frustration, and resentment. Rather than muting unconscious biases, they actually awaken them.
Here’s how to spot whether your diversity program is doing more harm than good in your workplace:
The program emphasizes guilt or shame.
This all-or-nothing approach leaves no room for discussion about the program. Participants may have genuine concerns about how the program is run, who it’s directed at, how it’s implemented, etc. Treating these concerns as an indication of racism or sexism, rather than valid perspectives to be discussed, will only anger and frustrate people.
If participants are deeply uncomfortable (e.g., start crying), then that is a sign of success.
Simply put, this is closer to psychological and emotional abuse than anything. Programs that seek to guilt and shame participants to the point of tears only serve to create a toxic work environment that can easily lead to significant problems in the participants.
People publicly admit they are guilty of racism or sexism.
This plays into the guilt and shame of the first point, but takes it to a new level. This sort of public humiliation is intended to create a kind of accountability, in that everyone in the group confesses to everyone else. But such experiences are often traumatic and rarely have any positive results. If anything, they are more likely to trigger biases than deactivate them.
It reminds brainwashing because there is only ever one right answer whatsoever.
Diversity training cannot, in itself, create diversity in the workplace. People’s thoughts and feelings cannot be easily changed by a two day course. Their greatest strength lies in starting a conversation about diversity that leads participants on a journey to personal growth and increased empathy.
Shutting this conversation down and acting like there is a single “answer” to diversity is counterproductive to all of that. If participants are told there is only one answer, which they happen to disagree with, then they will never feel compelled to grow. If the program only presents one answer, and they have their own contradicting answer, then to many participants, that’s the end of the discussion.
Diversity programs need to be built from the ground up to support the objective, mission, and values of an organization. This should not be achieved through emotional and psychological manipulation, nor should it involve trying to convince people they are simply “wrong” and that following a program’s steps will make them “right”.
At U Diverse we do things differently.
We help global organizations bridge their talent gap by implementing actionable strategies so they can attract, retain and engage diverse and inclusive leaders and teams. Book a free strategy session now
U Diverse help global organizations bridge their talent gap by implementing actionable strategies & initiatives so they can attract, retain and engage diverse talents and inclusive leaders
We will take the time to discuss the needs of your organization, define our partnership and take concrete actions together.
At the end of our meeting, you will get practical insights to attract, retain and engage diverse talents.
- Apply for a free Strategy session
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About U Diverse’s founder:
Magali Toussaint is the founder of ‘U-Diverse’. She is a certified Talent Acquisition Strategist, an ICF-certified Leadership Consultant, a Career Coach, a Cross-Cultural Trainer, and a Job Search Strategist with an extensive career in Recruitment, HR, Diversity, as well as Education. She has lived and worked in over four countries and speaks French, English, and Dutch fluently. Read More...