Why diversity training backfires
A leading researcher has found that ‘DEI’ training actually encourages racial resentment.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training simply doesn’t work. This is the startling verdict recently reached not by opponents of diversity training, but by Mahzarin Banaji, a world-renowned pioneer of research into so-called implicit bias. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Banaji argues that ‘the typical DEI training doesn’t educate people about bias and may even do harm’.
The article begins with some positive news: studies consistently show that explicit, conscious prejudice has fallen consistently in America since the 1960s. And ‘implicit’ racial bias has also declined, albeit at a slightly slower rate. Both of these developments vindicate the efforts of civil-rights campaigners, who successfully persuaded the vast majority of Americans not to judge their fellow citizens on the basis of their skin colour.
Progress, however, has since stalled. As things stand, men and women from minority backgrounds are less likely to be upwardly mobile than their white counterparts. And discrimination in job applications remains ‘virtually unchanged’ compared with a generation ago.
All of this is despite the vast amount of national and international attention that has been given to tackling ‘unconscious racism’ in recent years, especially in the world of work. US employers currently spend $8 billion on DEI training every year.
Clearly, these schemes are not working as advertised. One problem, according to Banaji’s research, is that DEI training actively punishes people who are identified as holding implicit biases. It often seems as if the goal of these courses is not to teach people, but to catch them out. Employees who choose the wrong answers on implicit-bias tests are then shamed. Trainers sometimes invoke fear of the law, warning employees not to make such a mistake again.
Many people respond badly to this form of public shaming. Some people end up feeling needlessly guilty for making an innocent mistake. Others react with anger. As Banaji explains, ‘people often leave diversity training feeling angry and with greater animosity toward other groups’.
Banaji isn’t the first researcher to call DEI practices into question. Implicit-bias tests, in particular, have long been discredited by academics. Nevertheless, it is notable that someone with skin in the game has admitted these failures so openly.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the failure of DEI courses to combat racism. After all, the assumption underlying them – that all people are unconsciously racist – feeds the repugnant idea that racism is an irreducible, essential characteristic of the human condition. Diversity training unwittingly treats racism as a permanent fact of life, rather than a prejudice we can and must overcome.
What’s more, most DEI courses are steeped in a poisonous racial identitarianism. They preach the same ideas espoused by the likes of Ibram X Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. They claim that all social ills can be blamed on systemic racism, and that the only way to combat this is through a form of reverse discrimination. These ‘anti-racist’ thinkers invert the famous dictum of Martin Luther King Jr, and tell us explicitly to judge people according to the colour of their skin rather than the content of their character. The effect of all this is to re-racialise society.
The DEI phenomenon isn’t just misguided or ineffective – it is deeply regressive. It is a menace to race relations and a threat to the ideal of colour-blindness. It’s time we put a stop to it.
Thomas Osborne is an intern at spiked.
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