by Dr. Dennis Davis, Director of Client Training (Ogletree Deakins)

With all the recent discussion about whether diversity training is actually effective, it is no wonder that some decisionmakers are feeling embarrassed to even approach the subject. The discussion has been raging for some time, but received major attention when a recent Washington Post article suggested that diversity training fails to accomplish its goals. The author reported that the number of women in management dropped by 7.5% following mandated company-wide diversity training. The number of African American men, Asians, and Latinos each also fell between 10 and 12% following diversity training.

So, what should we conclude from these numbers? We should conclude that diversity training in and of itself does not increase your ability to recruit women and individuals of color. We should conclude that diversity training does not necessarily improve your ability to retain women and individuals of color. And, we should conclude that the purpose of diversity training should be clear before the training begins.

The purpose of diversity training is to send a message to employees that every team member is important and that respect and dignity are to be afforded to all individuals who are present on company premises. Likewise, diversity training should help create an atmosphere where people are judged only on their contribution to the organization.

Don’t be embarrassed to tell your employees that the company will be conducting diversity training. They will see that you understand employees want to be cared about. They’ll recognize that you know this is an area of concern for employees that is more important than flexible hours, dress codes, and even the number of days off. Employees want to be included at work and feel like they are part of the team. Diversity training, for all of its alleged shortcomings, helps employees feel like vital members of the organization.

Note: This article was published in the March/April 2008 issue of The Employment Law Authority.

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