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Does Diversity Training Work?

Diversity Executive, July 27, 2010

by Joe Santana


Whether or not diversity training works is an important question for anyone running corporate diversity and inclusion efforts – and rightly so.

According to the 2010 “Diversity Primer” published by Diversity Best Practices, diversity training is one of the biggest items on diversity budgets in the United States. The median diversity budget is about $1.2 million.

So it makes sense that companies wouldn’t like to hear — though they often do — scholars and others question the value of their investments. Some of the most common complaints are:

  • “There’s a lack of clear correlation between diversity training investments and avoidance by employees of behaviors that result in lawsuits.”
  • “There’s a lack of clear correlation between investments in diversity training and the number of women and minorities hired.”
  • “There’s no concrete evidence proving that providing diversity training results in more women and minorities rising to the management and executive ranks.”

These doubts can make diversity training a hard sell even during an economic boom and extremely vulnerable during economic downturns when it is seen as a luxury rather than an essential. Further, this perception is not based on scientific assessment. Let’s look at the big picture.

Evaluating the quality and success of a diversity training effort by using an increase in women or minority hires or promotions or an avoidance of litigation is about as rational as looking at an increase in sales as the sole indicator of a sales training program’s effectiveness. Whether in sales, management or diversity, training programs are only one component in a chain of conditions and actions that lead to success. Other important factors that contribute to or block success include external or internal motivation, performance aids and realistic and achievable goals that are established early. For example, a company that wants to increase its female workforce by 80 percent may have set an unreachable goal.

Only one yardstick can be used to effectively measure the value of a diversity training program: Does the program enable the trainee to perform as required for the overall target effort to succeed at less cost than if the trainee had to acquire these skills on his or her own?

Diversity executives can develop and execute a diversity training program with provable success using these five steps in order of execution.

  1. Identify an overall strategic objective and determine all the components needed to reach it. For example, if the goal is to increase the number of women hired, examine what is currently happening, and determine what new behaviors and tools are needed and how performance will be internally or externally motivated. Engage the company’s training and organizational development professionals to ensure all the bases are covered.
  2. Isolate new skills and behaviors as well as the knowledge required for the target group to perform. The target group might include recruiters and hiring managers. If training professionals believe the target group cannot acquire the skills or behaviors it needs in a timely and effective manner on its own, you’ve found specific training needs relative to the overall objective.
  3. Shop for or build the diversity training program. This won’t be an overall survey of the vast landscape of diversity, but rather a specific set of knowledge, skills and behaviors. Quality training is not general and canned; it’s targeted and practical.
  4. Simultaneously, identify how you will test for effectiveness. Have trainees demonstrate knowledge, use of skills and performance of behaviors up to targeted levels after the program is completed. Develop role-plays or knowledge tests.
  5. Once these steps are completed, provide the training and test for the intended knowledge, skills or behaviors at target levels. This is essentially a test of success that isolates training from the other components of, for example, an overall strategy for hiring more women. Use the feedback from performance tests to continuously improve and evolve the diversity training program.

Quality and targeted diversity training works, but to quote Prism International CEO Linda Stokes, “The end goals that companies seek do not come as a result of training done in a vacuum.”

Diversity training cannot be measured specifically and fairly by looking for an outcome in which it is only one of many contributing factors. Diversity training should always be measured using metrics that test for its success and improvement against what it is specifically designed to do: effectively transfer knowledge and the ability to employ skills and demonstrate key behaviors.

Joe Santana is senior director of diversity at Siemens USA. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.


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