The Short-Sighted Washington Post Article About Diversity Training


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The Short-Sighted Washington Post Article About Diversity Training

News reports of recent studies questioning the merits of diversity training have been published since July 2007. The studies are limited in assuming that diversity training is conducted primarily to increase the number of women and other historically excluded groups in the management and leadership ranks. A January 19, 2008 Washington Post article about the studies suffers from under-reporting the results describing the different outcomes for white women and African Americans.

My blog, Diversity Training is Not Dead—It is Undergoing Head Surgery (July, 2005), resulted in republications on a lot of websites. I argued that diversity training is needed today to develop cultural competence. The school teacher, healthcare worker, and inner city fire chief will tell you that diversity matters. Will diversity training offer them the knowledge and skills to manage cultural differences? You bet—if an expert designs, develops, and delivers it.

The primary focus of the Washington Post and similar news articles is on arguing that the research does not support the effectiveness of diversity training for promoting women and people of color into management ranks. You do not need my twenty years plus as a diversity expert to realize that expecting one course to change an organization is simplistic at best. Most organizations engaged in a serious diversity effort today focus on building an inclusive organization, for which diversity training is one of several programs in a larger diversity education initiative. The data from the studies indicate that mandating sensitivity training for managers does not lead to increased management level positions for non-white males. A closer look at the data however shows that the outcomes for white women and African American group differ. African American women tended to benefit from programs that reduced their isolation, while structural changes in the organization led to the comparably superior benefits for white women. African American men as a group did not benefit from any of the programs.

The study results confirm what diversity professionals and human resource officers have known for a long time. It takes a long term effort to promote an inclusive organizational culture. Scott Page’s research shows how diverse teams outperform monocultural teams on a range of problem solving tasks. Scott says that teams in the real world must work through their cultural differences to achieve the results he finds under controlled conditions. It is more profitable to mandate diversity training when an organization’s productivity is expected to increase with mandatory multicultural team building training.

The obvious argument against mandatory training is that it will not work if people resent it. A social science study published in the early 1980s showed that while participants viewed affirmative action as offering an unfair advantage, they liked the results because it increased opportunities to work with people of different cultural backgrounds. Why wouldn’t they utilize valuables skills that increase their effectiveness in working with people across cultures? In fact, this is what people are asking for in my experience. They are tired of the sensitivity training that focuses on making white American males feel guilty about women and people of color having a disadvantage.

I conclude that diversity training has a poor reputation due to limited theory development and research to support. One of the most important contributions is the introduction of the term cultural competence among human service scholar-practitioners. Cultural competence is conceptualized as comprised of components and sensitivity and awareness make up just one of them. The best diversity training is based on assessment that identifies the cultural competence an organization needs to target for high impact diversity education ( ).

Diversity professionals need to take back diversity training. Otherwise short-sighted scholars and journalists will continue to undermine our work.


Racial harassment still infecting the workplace

By Eve Tahmincioglu, MSNBC contributor

updated 6:24 p.m. PT, Sun., Jan. 13, 2008

Despite decades of civil-rights progress, workers’ complaints are rising

Racial harassment cases have more than doubled since the early 1990s, hitting an all-time high of 6,977 in 2007, according to EEOC data. (Blacks file nine out of 10 race harassment charges.) From fiscal 2000 to 2007, the EEOC received 51,000 racial harassment charge filings nationwide, already over the number received during the entire 1990s.

The big racial harassment payouts tend to get the headlines. Earlier this month, Lockheed Martin Corp. agreed to settle a case and pay $2.5 million to a black electrician who claimed he was harassed on a daily basis. He was threatened with lynching and once told: “If the South had won then this would be a better country.”

But cases like this with smaller monetary penalties are numerous, although they may not get as much press coverage.

According to an EEOC lawsuit involving AK Steel settled last February, workers were allegedly subjected to Nazi symbols, nooses, KKK videos, and graffiti with messages to murder blacks. In January 2007, EEOC settled the racial harassment suit against the company for $600,000.

And in July 2006, Home Depot paid a $125,000 settlement in a suit that alleged, according to the EEOC, “that a black former night crew lumberman/forklift operator was subjected to a racially hostile work environment because management condoned racial remarks by his supervisors who called him ‘black dog,’ ‘black boy.’” One manager even was charged with stating “that the Supreme Court had found black people to be ‘inferior.’”

These over-the-top acts at major corporations, probably have you scratching your head wondering what ever happened to diversity training, the endless videos on race-relations etiquette and human resource departments hell bent on weeding out such behavior.

Despite all these efforts that expanded greatly in the 1990s, hatred and ignorance apparently remain alive and well. There are a host of reasons racial harassment is escalating, according to labor experts, everything from a struggling economy that has caused major job insecurity to more people of color in the workplace, and even some blame violent video games.

“Acts of violence and hate have been glorified in some video games and through the Internet, as well as being perpetuated in the news and entertainment media,” says the EEOC’s Grinberg. “Therefore, some people may have become desensitized, almost to the point of becoming immune, to inhumane behavior that leads to racially hostile work environments.”

But whatever the reason, the bottom line for a worker who experiences such hostility is they are often stuck between a rock and a hard place when such bias occurs. Reporting such behavior often leads to retaliation, an increase in the harassment, or years of litigation, as happened in the recent Lockheed Martin case and employee Charles Daniels.

“I endured it way too long,” says Daniels about the harassment he suffered at the hands of four coworkers and one supervisor. He made several complaints to management but was told by an HR manager, of all people, that “boys will be boys.”

While we think of cases of harassment typically hit the rank and file, some legal experts have seen an uptick in black managers being harassed. Judy Broach, an attorney who represents workers, says she’s seen many black managers quit their jobs in disgust because of harassment.

“I think there is now a sense that it’s OK to display some degree of racial insensitivity” that wasn’t OK ten years ago, she adds, because many people wrongly think the time is over for special treatment because “blacks have achieved so much. Companies are relaxing standards and we’re sliding backwards.”

The influx of Gen Yers may also be contributing to the rise in reporting of such harassment, surmises Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer for “The younger generation isn’t as tolerant as the baby boomers,” he explains.

Myrtle Bell, an associate professor of management for University of Texas at Arlington, says it’s all about the sluggish economy.

“The economy is much worse than it has been, so when times get tough people who feel entitled begin to feel things are being taken from them so they take it out on people whom they feel get things unjustly,” she explains.

In the case of Daniels from Lockheed Martin, he decided to take his issue to the EEOC and won. Raymond Cheung, the EEOC attorney who led the agency’s case, says, “To combat the harassment and threats faced by Mr. Daniels is at the heart of why the EEOC was created. Despite concerns of retaliation, this man had the courage to stand up and make public what happened to him, in an effort to ensure that it would not happen to anyone else.”

Alas, not everyone has the wherewithal to make such a journey, nor would his or her efforts be guaranteed to lead to such a victory. In fact, less than 20 percent of race complaints ever end up with some sort of monetary or work-related wins, says Bell.

So what’s a worker to do?

First off, find a place to work that you know is friendly to your race, gender or sexual preference. Bell says people searching for a job should do their homework beyond just what salary or benefits are offered. Talk to workers about their experiences at the company; check out social-networking sites like Facebook; and find out if the company has affinity groups, or programs for minorities.

This kind of research should be done on your own time before you send out your resume or at least before you go for the interview. Stay away from talking about affinity groups and the company’s treatment of race issues unless the hiring manager brings it up. Some hiring managers or recruiters, afraid of litigation, may take this as a sign you’re a troublemaker.

If you’re already in a job where harassment is taking place, use some logic to diffuse the situation.

Maybe you are dealing with a manager or coworker that isn’t aware how his or her words, or pictures on their desk offend you. Kerry Patterson, who co-authored “Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior,” says he sat in on a meeting recently where a manager from the South was referring to certain workers at “darkies.”

“A black colleague in the room said: ‘You know what, in lots of parts of country that’s an insulting term. I’d rather you not use that,’ and he said, ‘Ok,’” Patterson explained. “It didn’t go to court or end up in a fist fight.”

If common sense does not prevail or you just don’t want to confront the harasser, you should first find out if your employer has a protocol on how to handle these situations and follow it. Also, advises Bell, you have to document everything that happens and save any e-mails or notes that support your claims.

In cases where your boss is the harasser, you don’t go to your boss, or his or her supervisor. Head for the HR department and state your case, including a written account of what’s been happening.

There is always the EEOC if nothing comes out of your complaints. (Check out the EEOC’s Web site for how to file a charge.)

But if a court fight is not for you, Bell suggests you consider leaving your employer because years of harassment can do damage to your body and soul.

Unfortunately, Bell adds, this type of bias against blacks isn’t going away anytime soon because it’s engrained in our society.

And even though Barack Obama is showing such potential as a presidential contender, the way people view him may be part of the problem. “People refer to him as a black candidate. He’s just as much white as he is black,” Bell points out. “That says a lot about race in America.”

Cultural differences alter brain’s hard-wiring: New research finds that social perspective influences how we see the world

By Clara Moskowitz

updated 10:28 a.m. PT, Fri., Jan. 18, 2008

It’s no secret culture influences your food preferences and taste in music. But now scientists say it impacts the hard-wiring of your brain.

New research shows that people from different cultures use their brains differently to solve basic perceptual tasks.

Neuroscientists Trey Hedden and John Gabrieli of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research asked Americans and East Asians to solve basic shape puzzles while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. They found that both groups could successfully complete the tasks, but American brains had to work harder at relative judgments, while East Asian brains found absolute judgments more challenging.

Previous psychology research has shown that American culture focuses on the individual and values independence, while East Asian culture is more community-focused and emphasizes seeing people and objects in context. This study provides the first neurological evidence that these cultural differences extend to brain activity patterns.

“It’s kind of obvious if you look at ads and movies,” Gabrieli told LiveScience. “You can tell that East Asian cultures emphasize interdependence and the U.S. ads all say things like, ‘Be yourself, you’re number one, pursue your goals.’ But how deep does this go? Does it really influence the way you perceive the world in the most basic way? It’s very striking that what seems to be a social perspective within the culture drives all the way to perceptual judgment.”

The results of the study were published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Hard work

The scientists asked 10 Americans and 10 East Asians who had recently arrived in the U.S. to look at pictures of lines within squares.

In some trials, subjects decided whether the lines were the same length, regardless of the surrounding squares, requiring them to judge individual objects independent of context. In others, participants judged whether different sets of lines and squares were in the same proportion, regardless of their absolute sizes, a task that requires comparing objects relative to each other.

The fMRI revealed that Americans’ brains worked harder while making relative judgments, because brain regions that reflect mentally demanding tasks lit up. Conversely, East Asians activated the brain’s system for difficult jobs while making absolute judgments. Both groups showed less activation in those brain areas while doing tasks that researchers believe are in their cultural comfort zones.

“For the kind of thinking that was thought to be culturally un-preferred, this system gets turned on,” Gabrieli said. “The harder you have to think about something, the more it will be activated.”

Individual flexibility

The researchers were surprised to see so strong an effect, Gabrieli said, and interested in the reasons for individual variations within a culture.

So they surveyed subjects to find out how strongly they identified with their culture by asking questions about social attitudes, such as whether a person is responsible for the failure of a family member.

In both groups, participants whose views were most aligned with their culture’s values showed stronger brain effects.

© 2008 MSNBC Interactive


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  1. Thank you for the resources and ideas. I’ve found that diversity training, like any other kind of training, only works if it has buy-in from leadership and becomes part of the company culture. It also helps if it is a long-term program. Without support from the top few diversity initiatives have a chance to go deeper into shifting attitudes and behaviors.

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