Paul R. Lehman, The folly and phoniness of diversity training programs

February 12, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, black inferiority, blacks, Civil Right's Act 1964, discrimination, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, minority, Prejudice, Race in America, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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Prior President Truman desegregating the armed forces and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v Topeka, European Americans (whites)had little reason to know or want to know anything in particular Prior to President Truman desegregating the armed forces and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v about anyone in society but themselves. Changes in society in the late 1950’s that brought African Americans and women into the workforce placed a challenge on the European American (white)male to learn how to get along with the new people in the workplace. A decade later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 went into effect, the need for Americans to learn how to live and work together in a diverse environment became a necessity. One of the tools introduced to help accomplish that feat was called diversity training.

In an article in Time (2/8/2018) entitled “How diversity training infuriates men and fails women,” Joanne Lipman wrote the following description: “decades before Anita Hill, Gretchen Carlson or #Me Too, American companies dreamed up ‘diversity training,’ typically a course that last anywhere from an hour to a couple of days, with the goal of wiping out biases against women and others from underrepresented groups.” Please note that she identified American companies as being the instigators of diversity training. She continued: “For most of its history, diversity training has been pretty much a cudgel, pounding white men into submission with a mix of finger-wagging and guilt-mongering.”

The early diversity training seemed little more than an experimental effort, but Lipman noted that after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the training took on more urgency: “Within a decade, it had morphed into a knee-jerk response to legal actions, after a series of high-profile sex-discrimination suits.”Basically, companies invented diversity training as a safeguard against lawsuits that focused on some form of discrimination and also, a way to maintain the status quo. The more diverse Americans entered into the social institutions of society including education, civil service, medicine, politics, government employment, state, local, a federal, and business, the more the need for diversity training became important. Lipman noted that “I don’t recall ever hearing the phrase until the 1990s. By then, it had been reconstituted as a feel-good exercise in consciousness-raising. White men were told they should include women and minorities because it’s the right thing to do. It was all about the importance of “inclusion.” She added: “But here’s the thing about diversity training: It doesn’t work.”Whether it worked or not actually depended on the desired objectives of the promoters.

Lipman’s statement about diversity training not working was viewed from the perspective of wanting to see diverse people included on a fair-minded basis. She noted that Harvard professor Frank Dobbins and others looked into the data and discovered “that for white women and black men and women in management positions, it actually made things worse. That’s right: companies that introduced diversity training would actually employ more women and black men today if they had never had diversity training at all.”While many reasons exist for the failure of the programs, the primary reason is due to the expectations of a program that was not designed to address those expectations. Why?

American society has always been diverse; however, that diversity did not mean that all Americans enjoyed the same rights and privileges. The founding fathers were Anglo-Saxons from Europe and invented for American two races, one black and one white, based on the false premise of a race by color. Since they were in control of society, including government, they could impose their concept of race on the people of America, which they did. So, most European Americans (whites)grew-up in America viewing themselves as normal while all people not looking like them as inferior, especially, African Americans. The point of this historical information is to underscore the enormous challenge that any program whose objective was to change the European Americans(white) perception of themselves as not being superior to other people would face. What the programs in diversity training did was to encourage the European American (white)males to treat other people with courtesy, respect, and fairness as they saw it, but not relinquish their sense of superiority. How was that achieved? Well, when the program stressed the differences among the other people whether cultural, ethnic, religious, or gender, the perception of the other people came from the perception of the European American(white), not from just another ethnic American. So, whatever the outcome of the diversity program, the European American (white)male still retained his sense of place in society, although he might be upset.

In her article, Lipman referred to a portion of Dobbin’s study that noted reasons for programs failure: “He singled out three situations in which training is doomed to fail: when it’s mandatory; when it so much as mentions the law; or when it is specific to managers, as opposed to being offered to all employees.”  In addition, Lipman added that “Perhaps more to the point is the fact that the training infuriates the people it’s intended to educate: white men. ‘Many interpreted the key learning point as having to walk on eggshells around women and minorities—choosing words carefully so as not to offend.’”Any numbers of program interpretations do not necessarily favor the happiness of the European American (white) males.

The primary problems with programs of diversity training are that they have an unreasonable objective and little clarity of what they seek to achieve. The fact that their focus involves looking at the various differences among people and underscoring those differences would be cause for anyone to feel uncomfortable. But as Lipman noted earlier, only the feelings of the European American (white) man was of any concern relative to the program’s success. So, if the European American (white) males are not happy at the program’s conclusion, then it was a failure. Since most programs are designed to point out biases, it is a certainty that European American (white) males will not leave happy.

What programs designed to deal with social biases must do is identify the objective of the program, and not diversity training, but teaching about and understanding cultural biases. People, regardless of their cultural differences do not want to be set apart from other people because of their differences. According to Lipman: “ Women and minorities often leave training sessions thinking their co-workers must be even more biased than they had previously imagined. In a more troubling development, it turns out that telling people about others’ biases can actually heighten their own.”

One of the concerns Lipmann’s article exposed relative to diversity programs was the use of language that still serves to separate people rather than unite them—terms like minorities, white and black people. If the language and the object of the programs do not change, neither will the results of the programs.

 

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  1. The cartoon BROTHERHOOD OF MAN (1946) was a ten-minute film about diversity, but it was with a Euro-centric view.


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