Diversity training has been around for a few decades now and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be revolutionizing workplaces any time soon. While good in theory, the outdated method of “training” the sexism and racism out of the office serves less to help women and minorities and more to create an accusatory environment that leaves men feeling guilty or worse, under attack.
Research in recent years has found that diversity training doesn’t have much of an impact on office relations and might actually have an effect opposite to the one desired. In some cases, white men who undergo diversity training leave the sessions with the sense that discrimination is “all their fault” and then lash out at female and minority coworkers. That’s helping no one.
The truth is, underrepresented groups in the workplace shouldn’t feel like they aren’t valued or heard, but men also shouldn’t feel like they are responsible for the entire history of discrimination either. Yes, they play their role even if it’s just by benefiting from privileges they can’t help, but it’s not their “fault.”
So if diversity training only makes a workplace less accepting of difference, how do we make things better? Editor and author Joanne Lipman says that the answer lies in opening up the conversation and letting women lead.
“Women, there are so many issues that we face at work, we talk about them all the time amongst ourselves but that’s half a conversation,” she said on The Social, “It can only solve half the problem. We really need men as our allies. What a shame that we would be alienating them instead of bringing them into this conversation.”
Realistically, a few hours of any kind of training isn’t going to make huge changes to people’s perceptions and behaviours. A few might have an “aha” moment where they realize something they didn’t think was problematic was actually hurting others, but statistically, that’s often not the case. What workplaces really need are people who are truly dedicated to making the office inclusive.
“You really have to have an organization where the leadership – like your chief executive officer or whoever is running the organization – truly believes in [diversity] and owns it,” Lipman said, “Women in leadership, every piece of research shows you, makes your organization more successful. If you want a recipe for success for your organization? It’s really simple: just add women.”
Lipman also points out that the sexism and racism displayed in the workplace wasn’t learned there. Those are the result of perceptions and behaviours established earlier in life and brought in by individuals who already behave that way outside work.
The real “diversity training” needs to start in the home with your kids. Raising the next generation to be more tolerant, inclusive, compassionate and progressive is up to the parents of today more than the HR department.
In the meantime, putting more women in charge doesn’t seem like a bad idea either.