Don’t believe the anti-DEI hype!
Every few months, an article is published claiming that DEI training doesn’t work. This time, contrarian writer Jesse Singal and his New York Times editors grab clicks with the headline “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?”
If you haven’t read it, I’ll save you time by recommending you skip to the 11th paragraph (out of 15). That is the first part of the article that engages with the actual DEI field as it is, rather than with a straw man.
For the first ten paragraphs, Singal slams a “ticking a box and moving on” model of DEI that he claims is “currently in vogue.” He says that DEI promoters “make bold promises” that workshops by themselves “can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on.”
I don’t know any DEI providers who would make those claims. I certainly don’t. Singal doesn’t name or quote any who do.
It has long been a best practice in the DEI field to offer workshops as part of a comprehensive assessment and change management strategy, not as mandatory one-offs. Reputable DEI practitioners will tell clients this at the first meeting. (I wrote a blog post about this in July of 2022.)
Obviously, a single workshop is not going to result in long-term systemic change. Why would anyone think it would? One of anything without follow-through doesn’t create significant change. One fire safety training doesn’t save lives. One webinar on the new timesheet software doesn’t make everyone an expert. Doing anything poorly will not get good results. Why does this reality discredit DEI work?
What I actually tell clients is that assessment, setting goals, and measuring success are what drive systemic change. And look! The one DEI professional who appears in the piece says exactly that! Dr. Robert Livingston, a social psychologist at Harvard, tells Singal: “It’s more important to accurately diagnose an organization’s specific problems with DEI and to come up with concrete strategies for solving them than it is to attempt to change the attitudes of individual employees.” This is the consensus view of the field—although this quotation implies that an organization has to choose between strategy and trainings. I believe that, as part of a broader plan, workshops are an excellent way to engage employees, increase awareness, and teach skills.
I hope leaders read past the bad faith of the first two thirds of this article and make it to the end, when Singal notes that organizational change “could take hundreds of hours of labor.” To this, I say, “Yes, exactly!” Why not talk to organizations that have invested these hours, and ask what results they are seeing? This would be enlightening rather than nay-saying.
And you might find that some of those hours involved workshops—ones that were tailored to their organization’s needs, opened up space for difficult conversations, and maybe even (gasp!) changed a heart or a mind.