Diversity training does more harm than good
But corporate leaders are too cowardly to scrap it.
At this very moment, someone, somewhere is being put through an expensive and time-consuming training session, under the banner of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). DEI has become a big business in recent years. In the US, the DEI industry was worth an estimated $3.4 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $17.2 billion by 2027.
DEI initiatives are supposed to make traditionally marginalised groups feel welcome in an organisation or business. But there’s little evidence they work. In fact, as one critique points out, DEI initiatives are likely increasing workplace tension. Training sessions can make employees aware of ethnic, national or racial stereotypes of which they would otherwise be ignorant.
Meanwhile, teaching fashionable theories about ‘white privilege’ can encourage people to look down on low-income white people. Indeed, as Jesse Singal noted in the New York Times last month, DEI training often seems ‘geared more toward sparking a revolutionary reunderstanding of race relations than solving organisations’ specific problems. And they often blame white people – or their culture – for harming people of colour.’
It shouldn’t take a managerial genius to see that fostering and fomenting racial tension among staff members might not make for a happy, productive workplace. No employee wants to hear that they are oppressed or an oppressor because of their skin colour. And adults don’t need or want to be told how to think. That’s why research shows that few respond well to attempts by DEI programmes to change their thinking.
Yet despite the mounting evidence of their failures, many companies are sticking with DEI initiatives. As well as looking to expensive external consultants, the most famous of whom can charge tens of thousands of dollars for a single presentation, some institutions have built staggeringly large internal DEI apparatuses. The University of Michigan, for instance, reports spending over $18million on DEI staff for the current academic year alone.
Many companies probably don’t expect these initiatives to work. They keep up the pretence largely because they fear there will be a woke backlash should they abandon them. It seems as if corporate elites are far more interested in displaying their right-on credentials than in improving their organisations’ effectiveness. This says a lot about the quality of leadership in the private and public sectors.
Soon, these CEOs, chairpersons and other leaders could be undone by their virtue signalling. After all, there is growing evidence that embracing the values pushed in DEI sessions can have wider negative consequences for companies and brands. Wokeness is not as popular with the general public as corporate leaders seem to imagine. Both Disney and Victoria’s Secret, two huge brands that have very publicly embraced woke values, have recently fired their CEOs following poor profits. The entertainment industry, in particular, has been stung by the public’s repeated rejections of its bland, woke offerings. Other industries can learn from this, too.
Executives have endlessly kowtowed to social-justice causes, seemingly in the belief that doing so would benefit their company’s image. But when measured in profits, employee morale or innovation, this strategy doesn’t seem to be working.
Make no mistake, DEI programmes really are bad for organisations. If corporate leaders want to stand out today, they could start by spending the billions of dollars currently lavished on DEI programmes on something that’s actually useful. Any leader worth their salt should look at the evidence against DEI programmes and scrap them.
Dr Rebekah Wanic is a psychologist and leadership coach.
Picture by: Getty.
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