Do you think diversity training should be mandatory? With so much racial and ethnic hate in the news, it would be great if people learned more about other cultures.
Training is so expensive and time consuming – why not just show folks Coca-Cola’s let’s-all-get-along-and-love-each-other commercial from 1971? That should make everyone join hands and sing songs of solidarity in no time.
— Evil Skippy
This post might be a very, very bad idea for my bank account since the topic concerns one of my most-requested classes. Still, I must pose the question: Is diversity training a good idea?
I am convinced that employers need to pay attention to diversity in the workplace. If hiring personnel are discriminating against (or favoring) a particular group, it’s a problem. If some employees engage in conduct that makes co-workers feel unwelcome due to skin color, spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, age – come on, you know the drill – that’s a problem too. Huge problems, both of them. But does this mean diversity training is necessary or even a good idea?
I don’t think so.
Long-time [email protected] readers and folks who have attended my training sessions know that I have a rather basic theory about what makes a workplace great: The people working there must behave with respect toward each and every other co-worker. Period.
Please note that I did not say that employees need to actually respect each other in order for a workplace to be great. Sure, it would be fabulous if they did have actual respect – but actual respect is not required. What is required is that employees behave in a respectful manner. You can think whatever you want to think – just be sure to channel your inner adult and conduct yourself at all times with professional respect toward your fellow employees. (This would mean not mocking them if they are disabled or comparing them to rapists if they are from a particular country).
Diversity training does not help achieve this goal. For people to behave in a respectful manner they do not need to know or understand the many impacts of culture, race, gender – you still know the drill, right? All employers need to do is set the clear expectation that all employees must behave in a civil manner and, if they don’t, they’ll be fired. It is not a challenge to communicate to all workers that they must act like emotionally mature grown ups or else they’ll earn the right to be terminated. Employers don’t need to train people about bias, race and culture in order to expect them to understand general expectations of decent conduct.
My main reason for discouraging diversity training, other than my strong conviction that employers have absolutely no right to tell employees what to think, is that mandatory diversity training offends many of the people who harbor negative feelings toward others who are different from themselves due to characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion – there’s that drill again. During my decades training employees, I have often seen the looks on some people’s faces who clearly resent having to sit through a class about bias, culture and diversity. They often ask questions such as, “Shouldn’t there be a discrimination law protecting White people?”, “If ‘they’ don’t want to assimilate, why did they move to this country?” and “Why do minorities get so many special rights that regular people don’t get?”
Still, the majority of people who have been through my diversity trainings seem to have liked hearing the information and thinking about the related workplace issues. While they enjoyed the class, however, they did not seem to “need” it. They were already thinking about how people need to get along and how the world would be a better place if we could empathize with each other. They’d already grasped the basic concept that we are all human beings and all have similar feelings, desires and dreams. They understood that different does not mean bad. Diversity training simply cemented what they already knew or felt.
On the other hand, most individuals who have not already embraced diversity – to use an old training catchphrase – are not going to suddenly hug it due to a mandatory class at work. Instead, many of these individuals resent being forced to sit through the class so much that they do not hear what the instructor is saying. Even if the message might have resonated with them (especially when taught by an entertaining and humble professional such as me) they are not hearing it because they are so annoyed by having a life lesson forced upon them by management.
I agree with them. I would truly resent it if my employer told me I should or should not have a particular opinion or feel a certain way. There are many important freedoms, but the freedom to think whatever the hell you want to think is paramount. Anything less is a mind-control science fiction screenplay.
Before anyone gets mad at me (if you are in the pro-diversity camp) or nominates me for sainthood (if you are in the anti-diversity camp), the only thing I am arguing against is mandatory workplace training about “diversity”. I heartily endorse voluntary workplace classes on the topic as well as educational opportunities beyond the workplace. The more we know about diversity, the better. I just don’t think employers have the right to force it upon the unwilling.
A workplace that is diverse (whether or not there was diversity training) where employees are expected to conduct themselves with respect toward one another does far more to promote understanding, empathy and open-minds than any class. Life experience beats a lecture every time. Employers should focus on being diverse before they even start to think about teaching employees about diversity.
To be clear, I am NOT talking about anti-harassment training. Employers who don’t offer such training on a regular basis are risking judicial disaster. (Any employer who doubts my word should call its attorney immediately.) In addition to ensuring that employees know their duty to refrain from harassing behaviors and how to report harassment-related problems, anti-harassment provides an opportunity to reinforce the employer’s general expectation that employees behave in a respectful manner at all times.
In my next post, I will suggest an alternative to mandatory diversity training. In the meantime, Readers, do you agree or disagree with my proposition that employers probably should not have mandatory diversity training?
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