A new study published in the Harvard Business Review finds that most workplace diversity programs — including mandatory diversity training programs — actually harm the very people such programs are usually meant to protect: racial minorities and women. Harvard University professor Frank Dobbin and Tel Aviv University professor Alexandra Kalev coauthored the study, titled “Why Diversity Programs Fail.” Dobbin and Kalev analyzed three decades worth of data from more than 800 firms and interviewed “hundreds of line managers and executives at length.” The authors found that mandatory diversity training programs, hiring tests and grievance reporting systems all “make firms less diverse, not more.” The study notes that diversity training programs are used by almost half of all midsize companies and almost all Fortune 500 companies. “But five years after instituting required training for managers, companies saw no improvement in the proportion of white women, black men, and Hispanics in management, and the share of black women actually decreased by 9%, on average, while the ranks of Asian-American men and women shrank by 4% to 5%,” the authors note. “Trainers tell us that people often respond to compulsory courses with anger and resistance—and many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterward.” Dobbins and Kalev note that “a number of studies suggest that [diversity training] can activate bias or spark a backlash.” Like diversity training programs, mandatory hiring tests also make the workforce less diverse. “Some 40% of companies now try to fight bias with mandatory hiring tests assessing the skills of candidates for frontline jobs. But managers don’t like being told that they can’t hire whomever they please, and our research suggests that they often use the tests selectively,” the authors note. Companies with written job tests for managers “see decreases of 4% to 10% in the share of managerial jobs held by white women, African-American men and women, Hispanic men and women, and Asian-American women over the next five years.”
According to Dobbins and Kalev, “lab studies show that protective measures like grievance systems lead people to drop their guard and let bias affect their decisions, because they think company policies will guarantee fairness.” “Things don’t get better when firms put in formal grievance systems; they get worse. Our quantitative analyses show that the managerial ranks of white women and all minority groups except Hispanic men decline—by 3% to 11%—in the five years after companies adopt them.” Colleges and universities have increasingly used diversity training both to prevent and punish “bias” on campus. Just last month, a student at the University of Houston was suspended for 50 days and ordered to attend a diversity seminar after she criticized Black Lives Matter online.