Goran Adamson’s The Trojan Horse (A Leftist critique of Multiculturism in the West) is a searing account of the failure of the diversity driven agenda. His detailed examination of diversity in Sweden is hard hitting. He calls it out as wrong-headed, counterproductive and conservative. It makes one think deeply about the subject, especially the ‘diversity’ industry, touting ‘diversity courses’. Several dimensions of the diversity agenda are identified as wanting, even dangerous. Other research is also damning. Major studies from Dobbin, Kalev and Kochan show that diversity training does not increase productivity and may, in fact, produce a backlash. Most don’t know if it works as evaluations are as rare as unicorns. It’s all feels a bit odd, out of touch and, in terms of evidence, in need of a rethink.
1. Ideology of diversity
‘Diversity’ is a word that often cannot be questioned nor the need for 'courses' in the subject. The rhetoric that surrounds diversity in itself seems to censor debate, a diversity of views being the first victim. The word triggers silence and doesn’t tolerate dissent. One must not question the idea of diversity as an absolute good. As employers and employees we are expected to accept that we are in a state of sin regarding diversity and must go through some sort of confession process, facing up to our weaknesses, through ‘diversity’ courses, to absolve our sin. This is unhealthy, as it is in need of research and evaluation.
In fact, diversity training is largely damned by the research. The evidence shows it has become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. The vast amount of time and money spent on diversity training, when evaluated, is found wanting, mostly ineffective, even counter-productive. With evidence from large-scale studies, from Dobbin, Kalev and Kochan, as well as many other focused pieces of research, you'd have thought that the message would have got through. The sad truth is that few on either the supply or demand side, even know about the research, whether it works or not. It's become an article of faith.
Companies worldwide spend many hundreds of millions of dollars each year on diversity training. The tragic truth is that most of this is wasted. Groupthink seems to be at the heart of the matter. Groupthink among compliance training companies, who simply do what they do without supporting evidence and tout ineffective ‘courses’. Groupthink in HR, who find it easier to just run ‘courses’ rather than tackle real business problems. The whole edifice is a house of cards.
It is not clear that there is a solid definition of ‘diversity’. You can’t just say ‘difference’ that’s too loose. One could invoke the idea that individuals are unique, and this uniqueness is paramount. Unfortunately, it too often focuses on collective ideas of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies (socio-economic status is often strangely absent or ignored). But ethnicity, gender and so on are terms associated with the collective, not the individual. Yet, when recruiting, the real individual needs are not things you were born with or into, but unique skills or the need to train in those skills.Adamson's research across Swedish Universities, showed a strange absence of definitions. Any definition of diversity is glossed over and replaced with diversity plans.
4. Lazy cultural relativism
Instead, a lazy cultural relativism, the idea thatall cultures are equally as valid or good (moral relativism) descends, disallowing criticism of illiberal cultural norms. Freedom of speech is under attack from ‘trigger theory’, art is censored, honour crime not ruthlessly dealt with, FGM still prevalent.
5. Not an intrinsic good?
Is the diverse always better than the similar or alike? Is polygamy better than monogamy? Will your coding team always benefit from having an even gender and ethnic mix or a ruthless focus on competence? Diversity rhetoric praises ethnic presence but could be a substitute for excellence and ideas? It is not enough to say that differences are always good, that x+y+z > x+x+x. The heterogeneous is not always better than the homogeneous. It can be but hte diversity myth is that it always does.
6. Diversity as conservatism
One could also argue that diversity is a deeply conservative idea, masquerading as progressive. It replaces meritocracy with multiculturalism. The ideology of diversity has led to a focus on the vertical divisions of ethnicity, at the expense of horizontal divisions of class, even gender. From a feminist point of view, diversity may tolerate attitudes, cultural norms and behaviours that may prevent gender equality. It prevents us from taking a secular view of the world, as we give in to relativism and acceptance. The demotion of ‘equality of opportunity’ by ‘equality of outcome’ is another product of the diversity movement. The group is valued more than the individual. It pits the poor against the poor. Ultimately, it is the dull traditionalism of conservatism.
7. Diversity does not lead to increased productivity.
Thomas Kochan, Professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management’s five year study had previously come to the same conclusions, "The diversity industry is built on sand," he concluded. "The business case rhetoric for diversity is simply naive and overdone. There are no strong positive or negative effects of gender or racial diversity on business performance." The problem, according to Kochan, is the bogus claim that diversity training leads to increased productivity. This is simply unproven as there is little or no hard data on the subject.
8. Diversity shows virtually no effect
Harvard’s Frank Dobbin conducted the first major, systematic study of diversity programmes across 708 private sector companies, using employment data and surveys on employment practices. His research concluded that, “Practices that target managerial bias through…diversity training, show virtually no effect.” The research is a very thorough piece of work, and well worth reading, which is why it was completely ignored.
9. More harm than good
Dobbins research went further. “Research to date suggests that… training often generates a backlash.” Many other studies show that diversity training has activated, rather than reduced diversity (Kidder et al 2004, Rynes and Rosen 1995, Sidanias et al 2001, Naff and Kellough 2003, Benedict et al 1998, Nelson et al 1996). These are all referenced in the report. Louise Pendry of Exeter University claims that there’s no evaluative evidence showing that these programmes work. Even worse, many may do more harm than good. Tracie Stewart, a professor at Georgia University, has identified "backlash" or "victim blame", after some courses, where the learners harbour resentment against other minority groups for the way they are made to feel. Rather than bringing people together, it may be reinforcing differences.
10. No evaluation
Most diversity training is not evaluated at all or languishes in the Kirkpatrick Level 1, la la land of ‘happy sheets’. So check out Alexandra Kalev’s study from the University of Arizona. 31 years of data from 830 companies – how’s that for a Level 4 evaluative study! Her latest study found, after the delivery of diversity training, a 7.5% DROP in women managers, 10% DROP in black women managers and a 12% DROP in black men in senior management positions. There were similar DROPS among Latinos and Asians. Kochan found that none of the companies he contacted for his study had carried out any systematic evaluation of diversity training. Evidence around productivity is mostly anecdotal and repeated as a mantra by interested parties.
The strength of this study comes from the quantity and integrity of the data. It relies on compulsory federal EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) filings on the number of women and people of colour in management, along with details of diversity training programmes.
The bottom line is that the vast majority of diversity courses are useless, especially when driven by HRs perception of avoiding prosecution. The problem centres around courses run in response to legislative and external pressures. Kalev found that, "Most employers….force their managers and workers to go through training, and this is the least effective option in terms of increasing diversity. . . . Forcing people to go through training creates a backlash against diversity." Diversity courses are “more symbolic than substantive" says University of California LAW Professor, Lauren Edelman, She independently reviewed Kalev's study and concluded that the problem was training in "response to the general legal environment and the fact that organizations copy one another."
One of the problems, that Dobbin, Kalev and Kochan found, was the focus on ‘sensitivity training’ where people are often forced to focus on interpersonal conflict. These were the training courses that produced a backlash, as they were intrinsically accusatory. One bright spot was the finding that some diversity initiatives, namely those that were voluntary and aligned with business goals, were successful. This is similar to Professor Frank Dobbin’s study at Harvard, who showed, in his massive study that ‘training’ was not the answer, and that other management interventions were much better, such as mentoring.
The trick, I feel, is to drop diversity courses and look at other direct actions. Start with blind recruitment, removing names and other details fro applications. Force boards to recruit openly. Demand that apprenticeship schemes be adopted. Focus on competence not culture I training. Finally, except in cases where it is necessary, drop the ‘graduate’ requirement. The trick is to have a more open door of opportunity, not a closed door of pre-determined outcomes.