Why do organizations offer diversity training? What do they hope to accomplish? What’s the difference between diversity training and sensitivity training?

Let’s begin here. There are two primary reasons for diversity training:

  1. Preventing lawsuits
  2. Promoting inclusion

Does Diversity Training Work?

Does diversity training work? Will it prevent lawsuits and improve inclusion? According to a study by Harvard University, the answer is…not always. “The good news is that companies that give diversity councils, or diversity managers, responsibility for getting more women and minorities into good jobs typically see significant increases in the diversity of managers. So do companies that create formal mentoring programs. Much less effective are diversity training sessions, diversity performance evaluations for managers” — Harvard Scholar Diversity Training in Corporate America

Diversity Training Categorizes People

The problem with categorizing people, is humans create prejudices against categories. We stereotype groups of people. Most people have experienced getting to know an individual who broke their perceived stereotype. Most of us have said or heard statements such as, “Bill isn’t like most of them.” “Jennifer is different.” “Pedro doesn’t act like that.”

“People aren’t prejudiced against real people; they’re prejudiced against categories. “Sure, John is gay,” they’ll say, “but he’s not like other gays.” Their problem isn’t with John, but with gay people in general.” —Harvard Business Review: Diversity Training Doesn’t Work.

So What’s the Answer?

The answer is sensitivity training. Helping people to recognize individuals, and not put them in arbitrary categories, is the key to understanding. The first step in reaching understanding is improving communication. People communicate with people, not categories. When people learn to communicate without prejudice they recognize individuals. People who talk to each other acceptingly learn what they have in common. And when people communicate openly without anger, emotion, or preconceptions, sensitivity to diversity begins.

See People not Stereotypes

Putting people into groups by race, sexual orientation, age, or sex isn’t real, and it doesn’t work. To set expectations of others by their age, race, or sex is (I don’t know any better way to say this) ridiculous. It’s unproductive and misleading. And here’s the proof, we’ve all met that “special” co-worker, fellow student, or neighbor that wasn’t like the rest of “Them” whoever “Them” is.

Is your organization sensitive to diversity?