I fear that diversity training is losing favor among senior executives and HR departments. What I’m observing might simply be the natural evolution of a workforce intervention, similar to “quality improvement” which has moved from the province of a few experts to the responsibility of everyone in the organization. According to Billy E. Vaughn writing in DiversityOfficerMagazine.com, diversity training started in the 1960s, during the civil rights era, and was about racism and changing the attitudes of white males towards African Americans. Then, after federal legislation was passed protecting women and minorities, it became primarily about compliance with federal laws and avoiding law suits. The next phase was about inclusiveness in which diversity training was broadened to address breaking down barriers to participation for all people regardless of gender, age, nationality, disabilities, socio-economic background, or sexual orientation.
Now there appears to be a trend, in part driven by cost-cutting and down-sizing, to move away from organized diversity and inclusion programs. Some executives argue that they don’t need a department or an executive dedicated to diversity and inclusion because these values are ingrained in the culture of the organization. Luke Visconti’s column in DiversityInc magazine, titled “Ask the White Guy,” challenges this assumption. He writes:
Once in awhile a company spokesperson will tell us that diversity "is in our DNA." We usually hear that as they disassemble diversity efforts. The only thing in human DNA is to discriminate. It's a part of normal human tribal behavior. That's why you have to manage diversity if you want to extract the best talent, performance, market share and suppliers from a diverse country—and world. Constant management is necessary in a wide range of corporate functions; you would never hear "accounting is in our DNA" or "compliance with the law is in our DNA." Every company has accountants and lawyers, even though they've followed accounting and law practices successfully for decades.
Constant management of diversity and inclusion is necessary. Part of the reason some companies have moved away from organized diversity and inclusion efforts is that they haven’t been able to justify their investment in diversity and inclusion programs. Joe Gerstandt writes about this in his blog, "Our Time to Act". He says:
The idea of isolating diversity training out by itself to determine if it “works” or not ignores the complexity, the interrelatedness and the uniqueness of organizational culture and ecology. It is not terribly different from yanking my liver out of my body to determine if it “works” or not. A lone liver lying on my kitchen table is of no value, but the right liver in the right body can make all the difference in the world.
We have to examine the contribution that training makes to all of the diversity and inclusion efforts that go on in a high performing organization. I have talked to managers who attribute changes in their attitudes and behavior to experiences they had in diversity training. Of course, it wasn’t only the training that made the difference, but, clearly, training was a contributing factor.
Bill Green, Chairman and CEO of Accenture, in accepting an award from DiversityInc for being one of the top 50 companies in its commitment to diversity , says:
Diversity and inclusion are years past being a program; they are a state of mind in our company. We will take the best people on any terms we can get…in the service business, your assets have legs and can leave the building. Diversity and inclusiveness have become one of the characteristics of a high performing company and if you intend to compete in the United States and on the global stage you have to be able to embrace it in every dimension.
High performing companies, given a workforce that is becoming more and more diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, education, ability,ideas, and geography, should intentionally manage diversity and inclusion. They should examine everything they do through the diversity and inclusion lens and hold all managers accountable for ensuring that all employees are respected and given every opportunity to contribute and be successful in the organization.