DEI Training: Harmful, Phony, And Expensive
Image above is a screenshot from this UK DEI propaganda training film. In a NYT op-ed, Jesse Singal says that DEI training sessions are expensive, and either don't work or are even counterproductive. Excerpt:
Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is “disappointing,” wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, “considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct.”
Dr. Paluck’s team found just two large experimental studies in the previous decade that attempted to evaluate the effects of diversity trainings and met basic quality benchmarks. Other researchers have been similarly unimpressed. “We have been speaking to employers about this research for more than a decade,” wrote the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018, “with the message that diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around.” (To be fair, not all of these critiques apply as sharply to voluntary diversity trainings.)
If diversity trainings have no impact whatsoever, that would mean that perhaps billions of dollars are being wasted annually in the United States on these efforts. But there’s a darker possibility: Some diversity initiatives might actually worsen the D.E.I. climates of the organizations that pay for them.
That’s partly because any psychological intervention may turn out to do more harm than good. The late psychologist Scott Lilienfeld made this point in an influential 2007 article where he argued that certain interventions — including ones geared at fighting youth substance use, youth delinquency and PTSD — likely fell into that category. In the case of D.E.I., Dr. Dobbin and Dr. Kalev warn that diversity trainings that are mandatory, or that threaten dominant groups’ sense of belonging or make them feel blamed, may elicit negative backlash or exacerbate pre-existing biases.
Many popular contemporary D.E.I. approaches meet these criteria. They often seem geared more toward sparking a revolutionary re-understanding of race relations than solving organizations’ specific problems. And they often blame white people — or their culture — for harming people of color. For example, the activist Tema Okun’s work cites concepts like “objectivity” and “worship of the written word” as characteristics of “white supremacy culture.” Robin DiAngelo’s “white fragility” trainings are intentionally designed to make white participants uncomfortable. And microaggression trainings are based on an area of academic literature that claims, without quality evidence, that common utterances like “America is a melting pot” harm the mental health of people of color. Many of these trainings run counter to the views of most Americans — of any color — on race and equality. And they’re generating exactly the sort of backlash that research predicts.
Of course they do. Anybody with a lick of sense knows that these things are about two things: 1) assuaging the consciences of white liberals in power, and 2) laying down markers for how power works within the organization, to justify disempowering whites on the basis of their skin color, and calling it virtue. Besides, 3) these things are never about true diversity, true equity, and true inclusion; people who don't fit the bourgeois progressive's idea of a demographic in need of special treatment don't count. After I went through one DEI program at my then-newspaper, the white woman who oversaw the program asked me what I thought of it. I pointed out that it valorizes sham diversity. For example (I told her), there are more than a few religious conservatives in our readership area, but the only religious conservatives in this newsroom are the black Pentecostal secretaries, and me. Nobody in authority here cares about whether or not there's a diversity of ideas in this newsroom. Whether you're white, black, Latino, or Asian, straight or gay, male or female, everybody pretty much went to the same colleges, and everybody pretty much thinks the same (liberal) way. It was phony, the whole thing. And I'm sure that white liberal diversity tsaritsa went away thinking that my objections were what you'd naturally expect from a white male whose power was threatened, and therefore my views were dismissable.
As Singal (who is a woke-skeptical progressive) notes, there is little to no evidence to support some of the nakedly ideological claims made by the DEI training leading lights. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion cannot fail; it can only be failed. When it doesn't work, the only solution, then, is more DEI, more training, and more consultant$. And only a fool would dare to question any of this in the workplace, given how the stain of being thought of as a racist would harm one in the workplace. When I've sat through DEI training within newsrooms, we conservatives -- not all of us white! -- would trade glances, roll our eyes, and meet afterward to complain about the bullsh*t we had just been forced to sit through. But the one thing we would never do is object to any of it, publicly. We all knew that this stuff had the force of law within corporate culture, and that to question any of it, even in good faith, was to set oneself apart as a troublemaker, and probably a racist or some other sort of bigot.
Rather than make relations between racial groups more congenial, they made non-progressive whites more suspicious and afraid of minority co-workers. Why? Because the sessions, which felt like receiving training in dogmatic theology in a rigid, punitive seminary, made it clear who had power and who did not. One tended to avoid any potentially controversial conversation with a minority co-worker, to avoid that chance of being accused of racism, of microaggressions, or of any other offense against the sacred code. Within organizations dominated by DEI ideology, you had no reason to believe that if accused by someone favored by DEI categories, you would get a fair hearing. The entire DEI ethos functions to make whites and people of all races who dissent into thought criminals. In one company I worked for that was all-in for DEI, it was infuriating to see minorities who were clearly not as good at their jobs as whites with more experience receive promotions, and the managers (usually white people) advancing these employees not on the basis of merit, but race, sex, or other DEI-privileged characteristic, patting themselves on the back for their virtue. In the professional circles I moved in, DEI training and the DEI mindset caused nothing but fear, suspicion, and deep cynicism about company leadership.
I suppose I should say that as far as I knew, none of my DEI-hating colleagues were against the idea of having a diverse workforce. What we objected to, in part, was that DEI was an ideology that could be used to stymie our professional advancement, no matter how hard we worked and what we achieved, because we did not have the right skin color of other demographic characteristic favored by the ideology. And we resented that DEI was an ideology used to manage employees by inculcating fear of having your career ruined by the mere accusation of bigotry, however flimsy the evidence. We all knew how the Human Resources department worked, and how terrified the white people running the organization were of being thought of as soft on bigotry. You can imagine what this climate of fear does to the working of a newsroom, where doing your job well requires questioning authority, testing your hypotheses, and even risking arguments with colleagues in an effort to get to the truth.
I haven't been part of newspaper circles for some time now, but when I was, I knew conservatives and other anti-woke people throughout the industry who could read the handwriting on the wall, and who were looking for a graceful exit from newspapers before someone, somewhere, within their office accused them of sinning against DEI, and torpedoing their professional reputations.
Mind you, we didn't have the terms "woke" and "DEI" in those days, but we had the same mindset. Only now, after the Great Awokening, I understand that things are so much more intense, particularly with the entry into the media workforce of woke Jacobins who know how to use ideology to target older people and those they consider to be obstacles. If I were working for a newspaper now, I would be extremely cautious about challenging what woke colleagues had to say about anything, however silly or wrong-headed their position, out of fear of what they could do to me.
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So what does work? Robert Livingston, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School who works as both a bias researcher and a diversity consultant, has a simple proposal: “Focus on actions and behaviors rather than hearts and minds.”
Precisely! Does your organization have a problem with racism or other form of bigotry -- something that can be documented? Focus on fighting that. Me, I don't care if the people I work with secretly hate white people, or Christians, or conservatives. As long as they treat me fairly, and with professional courtesy and respect, that's all I can expect. It's not the place of one's employer to police one's inner thoughts. For a company to take it upon itself to adjust the hearts and minds of its employees is something that can only create more problems than it solves.
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