In the Harvard Business Review, sociologists from Harvard University and Tel Aviv University explore the counterintuitive idea that some of the most common tools for improving diversity -- one of which is mandatory training -- are not just ineffective. They could be detrimental to improving the number of women and minorities in the managerial ranks.
Making people attend diversity training may seem to make sense, said one of the study's co-authors, Alexandra Kalev, in an interview: "But it doesn’t work. For decades, diversity management programs flourished with no evidence whatsoever about their effects and their success."
"If someone is supposed to sit there, psychologically they will be grumpy," she said. "They will not want to engage. This is what we do as human beings -- we resist control."
The authors point to a range of past social science studies that have shown that efforts to reduce prejudice can backfire -- actually increasing bias or leading to more hostility rather than less. In another past study, white subjects who felt forced to agree with a document about bias toward blacks felt more prejudice; those who felt they could choose felt less. The pair also say that when diversity training is just focused on a certain group -- like managers or one where there's been a bias problem -- it can also have worse results. "When diversity training focuses only on managers it has this legalistic undertone," Kalev said. "You are the decision makers, therefore you have to go through driving school."