Diversity Training Doesn’t Work

Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review, March 12, 2012

“We’ve got another lawsuit,” my friend and client Lana* told me over the phone.

“Really?” I was honestly surprised. “What about all that diversity training everyone went through?”

“Well, apparently we need to do it again.”

Lana was the head of Human Resources for Bedia, a company in the media industry that felt, at times, like an old boy’s network. Diversity wasn’t just a professional issue for her; she cared about it personally.

Over the years, there had been a number of incidents at Bedia in which individuals had felt misunderstood, mistreated, or disrespected. Eventually, someone sued.

In the most recent situation, someone used a word in a letter that felt derogatory to a number of African Americans. Before that, someone sent a sexist joke around the office and a female co-worker was offended. There were other incidents too.

Bedia had tried to address the issue in a diversity training that carefully outlined what people were allowed to say, and what they weren’t.

They also tried diversity training that brought groups of people into a room and asked them to separate into categories. Some of the categories were more self-evident like gender, age, and ethnicity. Other categories were more subtle, like experiences they’d had, likes and dislikes, and beliefs. Each group was asked to share a little about how they saw themselves as an attempt to educate the others.

Still, the problem persisted. The organization was tense and the CEO worried that, eventually, Bedia would end up in another lawsuit.

He was right.

That’s when Lana called me. Would I do diversity training?

There are two reasons to do diversity training. One is to prevent lawsuits. The other is to create an inclusive environment in which each member of the community is valued, respected, and can fully contribute their talents. That includes reducing bias and increasing the diversity of the employee and management population.

Lana made it clear to me that Bedia was interested in the second reason, not just the first, and I agreed to investigate.

But after speaking with a number of people in the organization, it confirmed a feeling that had been pestering me for years:

Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice. It promotes it.

At first glance, the first training—the one that outlined what people could and couldn’t say—didn’t seem to hurt. But on further inspection, it turns out it did.

The scenarios quickly became the butt of participant jokes. And, while the information was sound, it gave people a false sense of confidence since it couldn’t possibly cover every single situation.

The second training—the one that categorized people—was worse. Just like the first training, it was ridiculed, ironically in ways that clearly violated the recommendations from the first training. And rather than changing attitudes of prejudice and bias, it solidified them.

This organization’s experience is not an exception. It’s the norm.

study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” Millions of dollars a year were spent on the training resulting in, well, nothing. Attitudes—and the diversity of the organizations—remained the same.


Categories are dehumanizing. They simplify the complexity of a human being. So focusing people on the categories increases their prejudice.

The solution? Instead of seeing people as categories, we need to see people as people. Stop training people to be more accepting of diversity. It’s too conceptual, and it doesn’t work.

Instead, train them to do their work with a diverse set of individuals. Not categories of people. People.


*Names and some details changed.

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  • I sometimes wonder if the firms that run diversity training and the ambulance chaser shyster law firms that file these discrimination/hostile workplace lawsuits aren’t somehow linked, either by personage, administration or financially.  Wherever you see Frick, Frack can’t be far behind, and vice versa.

    The solution? Instead of seeing people as categories, we need to see
    people as people. Stop training people to be more accepting of
    diversity. It’s too conceptual, and it doesn’t work.

    The solution?  Hire the best people who actually want to do real work and be productive and get things done.

    This is why my workplace personality is rather dull and unremarkable.  I go to work to do work, not joke around, not spread “knock knock” jokes, not fill out tournament brackets, not engage in office politics (which I avoid like the plague), and not to play the field of women co-workers.  Office politics are an impossible tar baby.  I suppose in that stead, I think far more like a boss than an employee, and of course I was both boss and employee simultaneously when I was the GM of the gas stations/quickie marts.  But if more people did that, most of these problems, as well as the shyster-sensitivity complex, would disappear.

    • radical7

      Of course you would think such nonsense.

  • David Owens

    Companies and state agencies conduct sensitivity training primarily to protect themselves in lawsuits. The object is to show that they have taken every reasonable measure to prevent a hostile workplace and give their lawyers something to work with if and when someone sues.

    • Oil Can Harry

      Correct, the diversity training and anti-sexual harassment seminars are a defensive measure to help defend against lawsuits.

      They don’t work because a large percentage of the “victims” were never mistreated in the first place; they’re just looking for a payoff.

  • Common sense and the Golden Rule are the best way to handle diversity. Most people with common sense are not going to sexually or racially harass coworkers on the job and the golden rule works when you treat others like yourself, you do not have problems with harassment on the job.

  • bluffcreek1967

    ‘Diversity training’ is essentially teaching adults as if they were little children. It is somewhat demeaning to even be a part of it. In a real sense, this is what liberalism and lawyers have done to this great nation!

  • What about transphobia?  Is that much more subtle today than in the past?  Or are transphobiacs out there running wild and unchecked?

  • Alexandra1973

    What’s homophobia?

    • Thoughtcrime1933

      Homophobia, fear of men.

      • Alexandra1973

        That’s definitely not me.  I’m married to a man!

      • Mutant Swarm

        It’s more commonly used as a word denoting fear of homosexuals, usually with the unstated premise that the person targeted by that word is secretly afraid he may actually BE a homosexual.

        It’s the LBGT community’s way of calling someone a racist.

  • libertarian4339

    Diversity training like all things invented by the radical left is based on overcoming human nature and legitimate instincts that are part of the human animal.  It’s a lame, illogical procedure that requires psychological conditioning and mind control, and, in the end, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    The above article suggests employing individualistic subject matter to prevent instilling further images of stereotyping, but using an individual to offer examples instead of groups doesn’t make the stupidity of it all any more palatable.  It is still perceived as nonsense to most people, especially the ones who can think on their own.

    This entire pitiful effort is just one more example of why multicultural societies don’t work and always split apart into warring factions.

    In fact, multicultural societies, are always in a certain degree of warfare.  Just take note of the contentious tribal issues that present themselves in this country every day of the year, some of which threaten to erupt into armed conflict or out-of-control riots at the drop of a hat.

    The same can’t be said of homogeneous societies.

  • JohnEngelman

    Diversity is not an asset; it is something we must deal with, given the heterogeneity of the American work force. The best way to get  along with those of different cultures and values is to consider their feelings, and to be courteous to them. Try to see the world as others see it. Avoid expressing attitudes of contempt for other religions, cultures, and races. 

    • The_Bobster

      I remember when the work force was homogeneous. It was a wonderful time.

      I never voted to have my country swamped by the very people you adore. My way of  “dealing with it” is to dig in my heels and fight every inch of the way.  I will not be courteous to the very people who seek my displacement.

  • Are you serious?  Much more “subtle.”  As in nonexistent.  Let me guess.  You’re a specially gifted empath that can detect racism waves as they vibrate through the air.  You should stick to reading palms, its more accurate.

  • Anan7

    I fully expect that AmRen will be blocked by censors very soon, just like Facebook is in China.  Mark my words, it is only a matter of time.

    • RegisterToPost

      Too late, Amren is registered as a “hate site” at my work.

  • Insoc

    Meanwhile back on planet earth.

    Blacks hate us Whites because we’re successful.  Your historical failures are not our fault. Whites have an average IQ of 100, blacks 70.  That’s due to breeding, genetics and heritability.  There is no racist White conspiracy to keep blacks down.

    Mother Nature is neither fair nor egalitarian.

    What about 50 years of legally forced racism against Whites:  Affirmative Action? How’s that for institutional racism.  There’s no “White privilege,” there’s black special benefits such as grants, loans and scholarships, and much more,  all of which are institutionalized and discriminatory against Whites. 

    What you fail to see is that you are nothing more than a tool being used as a battering ram against Whites.

  • iforgot

    Explain to me again how it is that people are surprised when companies offshore from the US whenever possible.

  • Whiteman

    “I fully expect that AmRen will be blocked by censors very soon”

    It already is. At least it came up blocked at my public library many years ago when i searched for it. Fortunately, there was a reason listed. The reason AmRen was blocked was because of ‘discrimination’. So, a website where most of the people complain about whites being discriminated against is blocked on the grounds of ‘discrimination’. That about sums it all up.

  • Click on the link to the “Harvard Business Review” and read some of the comments. The racism, self-hatred, and bigotry directed at Whites is deplorable. Then again, we are talking about the Harvard Business Review.

    • Remember, the B-Schools are supposed be the “conservative” arms of universities.  Most studies that show that certain major universities only have a handful of registered Republican or self-admitted Republican profs, most of those profs are in the B-School.

      But they are almost always Chamber Pot of Commerce slash open borders slash free trade “conservative” Republicans.

      Also remember that George Bush (43) graduated from Harvard Business.

  • “There are two reasons to do diversity training. One is to prevent
    lawsuits. The other is to create an inclusive environment in which each
    member of the community is valued, respected, and can fully contribute
    their talents. That includes reducing bias and increasing the diversity
    of the employee and management population.”

    The first reason is the sole reason that diversity training re-education camp b.s. occurs. Even then it doesn’t work or else cases like Bedia would not occur. I’d say paradoxically all of this discussion of grievances and differences in the diversity “training” is more likely to cause lawsuits. It tells somebody that the company is worried about and receptive to race, gender and sexuality complaining and stick ups and gives people the language and the means to complain about it for professional and financial betterment. That is likely the reason why they happen in the first place! To cause, not prevent, but to CAUSE LAWSUITS AGAINST WHITE MEN.

    • I’d say paradoxically all of this discussion of grievances and
      differences in the diversity “training” is more likely to cause

      Hence, that’s why I think the sensitivity training industry and the discrimination trial lawyers have documented links.

  • Doc Holliday:  I think you’re talking about a subset of people that get involved in office politics, those being the insipid suck-ups.  I’m not that kind of person in my personal life, I’m not that kind of employee, and I would hate having to supervise such an individual.

    Anonymous:  My experience with women in supervisory positions is just the opposite, that they’re into the Queen Bee Syndrome big time.  Translation:  Women in power keep women underneath them from rising too high and challenging their own power.  You saw that in 2008, when, at least when Obama reached the critical mass of viability and credibility some time in 2007, that most white Democrat women elected officials endorsed Obama and not HRC.  A few years before that, when Nancy Pelosi became House Speaker and she pronounced herself the most powerful woman in America, HRC was said to be livid at that remark. 

    I think the exceptions to that rule are doctrinaire feminists.

  • saxonsun

    Has it occured to you that some women may act  this way because of their–and don’t you dare deny it–second-class status? This is a rhetorical question. If a group is seen as “less than” the members of that group actually inculcate that crap over time. Women are NOT less than men. Not all disenfranchised groups are created equal. You try it on the other end for a bit. Imagine a world where men were the sexual property of women? You might say, “fantastic, bring it on.” Perhaps if you think more deeply, you’ll see what men have put women through. Can you be objective? I hope that’s not rhetorical.

    • Anon12

       Women are not second class citizens. Next to the nonwhites in this country women may be second class, but it IS the White males that are treated as third class or lower in this country of ours that has gone mad!

      I have seen more manipulative, hateful women in my life than I have ever seen men like that. I am talking about WHITE men here, not the nonwhites because I could care less about them or their women. We all know how they are.

      I am a White woman and from what I have seen over a lifetime it is nonwhites and WOMEN (who have put them on a pedestal) ) that share that first class citizen award.   Have you ever thought about what a lot of women put men through?  Do you also agree with the “feminist” movement?  If so, then that is why you have the mindset that you seem to have.  Can’t help you there, that is for certain.

  • ageofknowledge

    When are they going to train non-whites in diversity training so they will treat us like human beings? That’s what I want to know.

  • JohnEngelman

    It is not blocked at Kinko’s.