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Some Say…Diversity Training Doesn’t Work

Updated on January 9, 2015

I’m a diversity trainer. Do I think you can actually be “trained” in diversity? I don’t think so…not necessarily...“trained”. There have been several surveys that have shown that diversity training doesn’t work. Interesting. I’m not even sure how they measure that. For instance, it’s easy to know if your MS Excel training worked, if the course in machinery repair worked, or if the training you took in public speaking helped you…but, how do you “measure” if diversity training helped you?

It isn’t logical to measure it by lawsuits and legal claims. Technically, Equal Employment Opportunity and diversity are different. Using Excel or fixing a machine is done in a systematic fashion. Oftentimes, there is only one “answer” when you use AutoSum in Excel. Diversity means different things to different people. How do you measure that to know if it’s working? I don’t think it’s possible.

When I host a diversity seminar, I don’t necessarily view it as “training”. I feel the same way when I host a workshop for Business Ethics. Can you really teach ethics? I look at hosting these workshops as a way to create “awareness”. It’s a way for people to gather more “intel”. As employees (and humans), part of our job is to gather intelligence and continue being curious.

I don’t buy into the premise that “diversity training doesn’t work”. While you cannot “train” someone for diversity, the awareness adds to a person’s “supply closet” of knowledge. Additionally, diversity trainers need to expand beyond the basics of the social norms when it comes to diversity topics. Many trainers home in on skin color, religion, ethnicity, and gender. These are excellent topics if you are going to discuss EEO, employment law, and fair hiring practices. However, diversity is so much more than those popular topics.

Also, those particular topics can be controversial if not handled properly. People have very deep emotional feelings about those areas of diversity. They need to be discussed, but it’s best to ease into the deep end. Reminding people that everyone makes assumptions and judgments is important. Give them permission to do that. Workshop after workshop there are participants who tell me that they don’t ever “judge” people. This is where knowing brain science will help diversity trainers.

I explain to the training participants that the job of the frontal lobes (part of the brain) is to make assumptions and pass judgment. In fact, it’s a significant way of keeping us alive. If you have functioning frontal lobes, you will judge, assume, and even categorize things (people). That is a part of what our frontal lobes do…it’s our “thinking” and “logic” center. Therefore, we need to give ourselves “permission” (emotionally) to do that. It’s normal. It is not normal to tell people that they are not allowed to assume or judge. Assumptions aren’t the problems. Behavior is the problem.

I realize that there have been surveys taken about diversity training not working. It would be interesting to see the questions they used in those surveys. There is a very big difference between “training” and “awareness”. As we gather more intelligence, perhaps we are not “trained-up” on a topic, but we are more aware of the concepts and vocabulary that tie into the topic. When it comes to diversity, being more aware is all we should ask for from people.

About Dr. Kitty Brandal

Dr. Kitty Brandal is an experienced independent trainer who has been training and teaching for over 20 years. She currently serves as a part-time instructor for college-level business courses and is the President of Corporate Compass Training and Development.

She has designed curriculum and taught various topics while serving in the U.S. Navy, working in higher education, and the corporate sector. Dr. Brandal earned a doctorate degree in Organizational Management and Leadership and is a Certified Stress Management Coach as well as a Reiki Master.

Dr. Brandal offers a variety of leadership development programs, to include: Diversity, Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, Creativity and Innovation in the Workplace, First Time Supervisor Workshop, Communication, Dealing with Difficult People/Conflict and many others.

She is also an award winning speaker with Toastmasters International and is a member of the Professional Speakers Guild.



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