Why Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Seminars Don’t Work

Why Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Seminars Don’t Work September 28, 2023

One of the rituals of today’s employee training sessions, continuing education activities, manager retreats, and student orientations is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Seminar.  Research is showing, though, that the DEI training is not working to eliminate racism and other kinds of bias in the workplace.  Rather, it seems to be making it worse.

Two social scientists, including one whose research is highlighted in the typical DEI curriculum, explains why that is so in an article published in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall) entitled Why DEI Training Doesn’t Work—and How to Fix It.

To sum it up, the approach DEI seminars typically use is first to make participants feel guilty by exposing their hidden prejudices. Then they make participants fearful about losing their  jobs and breaking the law for those prejudices that have been exposed.  What this does is make participants angry, defensive, and more biased.

I’ll let the authors, Mahzarin Banaji and Frank Dobbin, explain:

Most training programs fall short on two fronts. First, they use implicit-bias education to shame trainees for holding stereotypes. Trainers play gotcha. . . ., Instead of training people about research that finds that bias is pervasive, trainers use the test to prove to trainees that they are morally flawed. People leave feeling guilty for holding biases that conflict with American values.

“Gotcha” isn’t going to win people over. The approach is disrespectful, and misses the main takeaway from implicit bias research: Everyone holds biases they don’t control as a consequence of a lifetime of exposure to societal inequality, the media and the arts. . . .

The second problem with most trainings is that they seek to solve the problem of bias by invoking the law to scare people about the risk of letting bias go unchecked. . . .Trainees leave scared that they will be punished for a simple mistake that may land their company in court.  . . .

Trainings with this one-two punch—you are biased and the law will get you—backfire. The research shows that this kind of training leads to reductions in women and people of color in management.

Why would diversity training actually make things worse? Making people feel ashamed can lead them to reject the message. Thus people often leave diversity training feeling angry and with greater animosity toward other groups. . . . And threats of punishment, by the law in this case, typically lead to psychological “reactance” whereby people reject the desired behavior.

For these two authors,  racism and other kinds of bias are not individual vices.  Rather, they are “systemic,”  being so pervasive that individuals cannot help but be biased.  They recommend that DEI trainers simply expose participants to the research showing that, so that the institution they are involved with can counter it the best they can.

That racism is systemic is a core assumption of progressivism and critical race theory, and yet the DEI seminars, in trying to advance that cause, end up working against it.

Then again, isn’t the individual morality approach a more Christian take on the topic?  It at least holds out hope that people can change their views, as opposed to the notion that those views are inevitable.

I’m thinking that what the authors are documenting and rightly criticizing is just inept teaching.  If the goal is to change people’s perspectives, they must be reached on the inside.  That would be a job for literature and the arts.  Have participants watch some movies and read some books that would help them identify with and increase their compassion for victims of discrimination.  That would do more to make them sensitive to the problem than trying to guilt them into submission.

At any rate, as we Lutherans have been saying for centuries, simply hammering people with the Law cannot make them change their behavior, let alone become righteous before God.  It can, however,  make them open to hearing the Gospel of forgiveness through Christ, resulting in an inner transformation that really does change behavior, with  “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).

But if there is no Gospel, no grace or forgiveness–something notably missing in today’s secular ideologies–breaking someone with the Law causes them to either rebel or to despair.

Photo:  Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Employees Attend Diversity Training Week, via Flickr, Public Domain

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