Saturday, February 23, 2008

Narrow minded diversity training

As a board member of a large public sector charity I was ’subjected’ to a diversity training course this week. There we were, twenty odd, forty plus adults being talked at by a trainer, an average looking white guy. The tone was one of a patronising parent ticking off his recalcitrant teenage offspring.

Talked at
After the compulsory ‘talking to’ we did the clichéd ‘break-out’ sessions, where we were asked to sort several statements into three piles – true, false and don’t know. The statements were banal, sometimes plain wrong and not very useful. Here’s an example, “Can you advertise for a Welsh speaker who must also be of Welsh origin.” No was, of course, the obvious answer. So what was learnt here? How many non-Welsh Welsh speakers are there? To what problem was this exercise a solution? Did you know that Chinese adults are healthier, on the whole, than British adults? No, then again it’s not a fact I’ve ever reflected on. There was a moot point about the percentage of people who were born disabled. This is famously misleading as many disabilities have a mixed nature/nurture relationship, including mental illness, even short-sightedness has a genetic component. It was a tired old format.

Training needs to be more diverse
A more serious issue was why such training takes this form. We were talked at (hopeless for the deaf) and inappropriate for learners with learning difficulties, as it went at the pace of the trainer’s delivery, not the learner. We were bombarded with 100 pages of text – inappropriate for learners with dyslexia and literacy problems. The forms were all on CD-ROM. Why not on the intranet where they should be? E-learning with its flexibility around pace, media, screen readers, text magnification etc is the obvious answer. It’s the training that needs to be more diverse.

Glossy brochures
There were two very expensive, full-colour brochures full of those stock colour photographs you only ever see in corporate brochures – darts bang in the middle of targets, a jar of jelly beans, smarties, sharpened pencils, dice strewn across a table. Completely over-engineered. This stuff should be online.

The written case studies were a hoot – the West Bromwich Building Society, Ford and Bernard Matthews. West Bromwich Building Society – the brochure proudly claimed that a whopping 9% of their income was from ethnic communities – this is bang on the English average for ethnic population mix, but way below the 13% for the Midlands. and West Bromwich, not a fact to be proud of. Other astounding examples of progress - 34% of their managers are female and they’ve introduced Sharia compliant mortgages – all in the same breath! Ford’s token evidence includes brand awareness figures of 42% and 41% for sponsored events. So that’s what diversity policy is about at Ford – selling more cars. At Bernard Matthews, the brochure tells us, labour turnover fell from 57.9% to 42.9% - what an achievement! Let’s ask ourselves whether a staff turnover of around 50% may have something to do with the £5.72 hourly rate. The business case for diversity training was well nigh invisible.

Tragic waste of time and money
What is really worrying is the recommendation for Complete screening, impact assessments, monitoring and publishing. There’s a small army of champions and data gatherers, spending huge amounts of time on fruitless detective hunts, producing endless policy documents and amendments to such polices. All this does is bog organisations down in paperwork. To what problem is this a solution? These organisations are full of people who are sensitive to these issues. There’s no sense of proportion here. The time and cost associated with this process is enormous and wasteful.

Doesn’t work and often unproductive
And just for the record – read Professor Frank Dobbins Harvard report on diversity training in 702 organisations. It doesn’t work, and worse, is often counterproductive.

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Blogger Rob Spence said...

Yep, I have been patronised in precisely the same way. It seems aimed at making you feel guilty for things you have no control over - your age, your ethnic origin, your gender.

9:57 PM  

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