Monday, November 20, 2006

Harvard research damns diversity training

Harvard’s Frank Dobbin has 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.” In fact, “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, Bnedict et al 1998, Nelson et al 1996). These are all referenced in the report.

The research is a very thorough piece of work, and well worth reading, which is why it will most likely be comprehensively ignored.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for highlighting this paper. Yes, definitely worth reading, especially for what the paper says about what does work (in the US, at least) to encourage diversity:

"Structures that embed accountability, authority, and expertise (affirmative action plans, diversity committees and taskforces, diversity managers and departments) are the most effective means of increasing the proportions of white women, black women, and black men in private sector management."

Anonymous said...

A really interesting note and research paper. 2 things to consider though... The first one is that the statistics refer to USA firms and we cannot assume that they will correspond to the UK work environment. What is important to note here is that a study of this nature of the UK business sector would be extremely useful. The second is that the results focus on the distribution of minorities in key management positions as a meassure of success. I understand that such indicator is not only valid but also determinant of the real rate of success of diversity policies working.

However, there are many other ways in which diversity and inclusion (or exclusion) manifest themselves in the work place -many of them very insidious and damaging. It would be interesting to analyse wheter Diversity Trainig, in its many forms, actually contributes in any way to the reduction of all forms of exclusion (sexism, racism, religious/age/other discrimination... etc.).

This area of work relations is very complex and rarely dealt with appropiately.

Any comments, Donald?

Donald Clark said...

The paper does deal with US companies but in scope, methodology, rigour and references, it is, I suspect, the most important piece of work of its kind.

I agree that a similar UK based study would be useful, but in my experience researchers in this country are not that interested in these topics. In over 20 years in the e-learning business I had only one request from a researcher to use any of the hundreds of projects, or data we gathered, from many of the largest organisations in the country.

Almost all of the research I have found useful in learning has come from the US.

I would also agree that there are other consequences of sexism, racism etc in teh workplace, and some of the studies referenced by Donbbins do cover these issues. However, one would need to identify measures and do the research to test a hypothesis.

There are some outrageous claims made on government web sites about increased productivity through training, including diversity training. My point is that these claims are not backed up by any evidence. At least this paper points towards real data that shows they are likely to be wrong.

Paper on Research said...

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