Is Your Company's Diversity Training Making You More Biased?

Is Your Company’s Diversity Training Making You More Biased?

In today’s world, the most powerful resource that a company has is the workforce. The rise or the fall of the company depends upon the performance and the skillset of the employees working in the organisation. Therefore, training the employees from time to time for the required skillsets and behaviour should be an essential part of every enterprise training programmes. One such training which plays a very crucial role in shaping the mindset of the employees so as to unlock the company’s full potential is the Inclusion and Diversity Training. 

Inclusion and Diversity training is one tactical component of a D&I strategy. This training is considered to be powerful and commonly used, but the impact the training leaves back is inconsistent. There is some evidence of cases where the programs have actually had the opposite effect than what was expected. In 2016, a study was conducted on more than 830 mandatory diversity training programs and the results were quite surprising. It was concluded that such programs usually triggered a strong backlash against the ideas which there were actually supposed to promote. In the Harvard Business Review, sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev wrote, “Trainers tell us that people often respond to compulsory courses with anger and resistance. Also, many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterwards.”

The problem here is not with the programs as they are designed to make the participants respect the differences. This action, in return, leads to much higher levels of performance. Inclusive companies have a demonstrated advantage – in their financial performance as well as in general levels of innovation. Also, it has been observed that people become more hardworking and creative when there are around people from different backgrounds. As these training programs focus on multiple perspectives, the team starts seeing an increased number of solutions to the same problem. The training has been specially designed by keeping in mind that it has to be in a well-designed manner, strong messages and delivered in a convincing way. 

If the program is so effective, why does it have such negative impacts as well? Well, the answer is simple – it’s all about the thinking pattern of most of the people. The main reason behind these conflicts is the political correctness and inclusiveness that stem from the same cognitive issues. If the employees don’t feel like they are not treated equally despite the caste and race that they come from, how can we expect the society to do it at a larger level?

It was in the 1970s and 1980s that Diversity and inclusion training came to corporations. The reason behind this was a biased environment. People there felt unwelcome because of the differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education or religion. This, in turn, affected their performances and therefore the companies weren’t able to gain success and make use of their potential. Diversity training covers hiring practices and thus helps in ensuring legal compliance. On the other hand, Inclusion training mainly focuses on the creation of the type of unbiased atmosphere and numerous leadership opportunities which has the power to attract diverse employees to stay with the company. 

The main problem which all of these programs are directly focusing on is being biased. The solution for this is not to simply outlaw. It is a human nature that whenever they are being told about what is to be done, or if they feel the pressure of doing things in a certain way, they usually tend to be wanting to do it in the opposite way. In a study published in 2011, the participants were divided into an autonomy group and a control group. Then, they were asked to read a brief anti-prejudice essay. Interestingly, the autonomy group read an essay which paid more attention to individual choice, stating why open-mindedness is a more enjoyable way to live. That essay had sentences like:

1) “When we let go of prejudice, the rich diversity of society is ours to enjoy”

2) “You are free to choose to value non-prejudice”

3) “Only you can decide to be an egalitarian person” 

4) “Such a personal choice is likely to help you feel connected to yourself and your social world.”

On the other hand, the other group read an essay which emphasized that discrimination is “prohibited” and also told them what they should be thinking. This essay had statements like:

1) “Employers have an obligation to create a no-prejudice workplace.”

2) “We should all refrain from negative stereotyping.”

3) “It’s something that society demands of us.” To sum up, when people think of one another as the members of the same group, bias based on race, caste and every other possible form against people tends to melt away. Therefore, the only way by which one can increase the employee’s involvement in the workplace is to make everyone feel as if they are a part of the same thing. 

There are many studies which support this idea or thinking. One way to create the feeling of being in the same group among people is to set and establish shared goals. To start an Inclusion program, a creation of teams where the members matter to one another is the first and foremost step. Creating a feeling that they are a part of the same in-group and are pursuing the same interests helps a lot. The most important thing for eliminating biased behaviour from both within the enterprise and from society at large is to focus on the common goals and a common identity. To get expert guidance in training your employees, you can simply connect with us in the contact us section. Our team will take the utmost care of your needs and help you achieve your goal faster and easier.

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Ms. Nivedita Chandra

IIM Calcutta Alumni & B.Tech Computer Science. More than 17 years of experience in driving HR Transformation across Global and local organisations. Worked extensively in improving employee experience through technology. Industry experience ranges across Automobile, Manufacturing, Banking, Educational, Technology, and Logistics companies.

Leveraging the synergies of both her consulting and leadership coaching experience, she created ValueMined – A Consulting and Coaching firm to mine hidden value of human and digital potential for organisations and individuals.
After 20 years of a corporate & entrepreneurial journey, her biggest achievement is having worked with people across the 6 continents, learning different cultures, ethics and values. She believes that no matter how different we may seem on the outer, we are all the same at our core.