This is not from some crackpot site, as you’ll have heard of Real Clear Science and know that it’s legit. But if you have questions about the author’s contentions, he gives a list of references supporting each one at the site (click on screenshot below to read).
Note that the article is from late 2020, so if you know of more recent references that overturn al-Gharbi’s contentions, by all means put them in the comments. The author, by the way, is a is a Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Sociology at Columbia University, and I fear for his future! Sometimes telling the truth gets you severely damaged in today’s political climate.
Now I doubt that there are many schools or big companies that don’t offer diversity training—mandatory or otherwise—with many having units on microaggressions and implicit bias training as well as DEI training. The year-old data show that none of these is effective in reducing bias; in fact, they can be counterproductive, increasing bias, resentment, or divisiveness. In this way, DEI training is mainly performative.
Why, then, are these courses still on ta? I think the answer is obvious: universities and companies need to show that they’re doing something, about the issue du jour, so what better way to demonstrate that your heart’s in the right place than to hire consultants to “train” your people. Sadly, the heart may be (and usually is) in the right place, but the head is not.
Now the author has previously discussed—and endorsed—viewpoint diversity in universities, so he’s not an appointment of that kind of diversity. The question that arises is whether viewpoint diversity is best expressed as assuming homogeneous viewpoints of a given gender, sex, or ethnic group. I won’t get into that, as you can read al-Gharbi’s piece on this issue. But I don’t think anybody would contest the notion that having a diversity of views in a university is a good thing. That’s assumed in every argument for freedom of speech.
The question in this article is whether such a diversity is actually promoted by various forms of DEI training. All I’ll do is list al-Gharbi’s contentions and let you know that there is a longish list of references adduced to support each contention.
I’ve put the contentions in bold and everything that’s a quote is indented.
1.) Historically, many rationales for diversity training have proven, upon later analysis, to not work very well.
Three references are given for this claim
2.) Training is generally ineffective.
The stated goals of these training programs vary, from helping to increase hiring and retention of people from historically marginalized and underrepresented groups, to eliminating prejudicial attitudes or behaviors to members of said groups, to reducing conflict and enhancing cooperation and belonging among all employees. Irrespective of the stated goals of the programs, they are overwhelmingly ineffective with respect to those goals. Generally speaking, they do not increase diversity in the workplace, they do not reduce harassment or discrimination, they do not lead to greater intergroup cooperation and cohesion – consequently, they do not increase productivity. More striking: many of those tasked with ensuring compliance with these training programs recognize them as ineffective (see Rynes & Rosen 1995, p. 258).
Eight references are given for this claim.
3.) Training often reinforces biases.
By articulating various stereotypes associated with particular groups, emphasizing the salience of those stereotypes, and then calling for their suppression, they often end up reinforcing them in participants’ minds. Sometimes they even implant new stereotypes (for instance, if participants didn’t previously have particular stereotypes for Vietnamese people, or much knowledge about them overall, but were introduced to common stereotypes about this group through training intended to dispel said stereotypes).
Other times, they can fail to improve negative perceptions about the target group, yet increase negative views about others. For instance, an empirical investigation of ‘white privilege’ training found that it did nothing to make participants more sympathetic to minorities – it just increased resentment towards lower-income whites.
Encouraging people to ignore racial and cultural differences often results in diminished cooperation across racial lines. Meanwhile, multicultural training — emphasizing those differences — often ends up reinforcing race essentialism among participants. It is not clear what the best position between these poles is (such that these negative side effects can be avoided), let alone how to consistently strike that balance in training.
Six references are given for this claim
4.)Training Can Increase Biased Behavior, Minority Turnover
Many diversity-related training programs describe bias and discrimination as rampant. One unfortunate consequence of depicting these attitudes and behaviors as common is that it makes many feel more comfortable expressing biased attitudes or behaving in discriminatory ways. Insofar as it is depicted as ubiquitous, diversity-related training can actually normalize bias. . . .
Eight references are given for this claim
5.) Training Often Alienates People from High-Status Groups, Reduces Morale
Diversity-related training programs often depict people from historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups as important and worthwhile, celebrating their heritage and culture, while criticizing the dominant culture as fundamentally depraved (racist, sexist, sadistic, etc.). People from minority groups are discussed in overwhelmingly positive terms, while people from majority groups are characterized as typically (and uniquely) ignorant, insensitive or outright malicious with respect to those who are different than them. Members of the majority group are told to listen to, and validate, the perspectives of people from historically marginalized or disadvantaged groups — even as they are instructed to submit their own feelings and perspectives to intense scrutiny.
In short, there is a clear double-standard in many of these programs with respect to how members of dominant groups (typically men, whites and/or heterosexuals) are described as compared to members of minority groups (i.e. women, ethnic/ racial minorities, LGBTQ employees). The result is that many members from the dominant group walk away from the training believing that themselves, their culture, their perspectives and interests are not valued at the institution – certainly not as much as those of minority team members — reducing their morale and productivity.
Five references are given for this claim
6.) Implicit bias training doesn’t work.
Implicit attitudes are one of the most commonly relied-upon constructs in contemporary diversity-related training. However, there are severe problems with these constructs – as hammered home by meta-analysis after meta-analysis: it is not clear precisely what isbeing measured on implicit attitude tests; implicit attitudes do not effectively predict actual discriminatory behavior; most interventions to attempts to change implicit attitudes are ineffective (effects, when present, tend to be small and fleeting). Moreover, there is no evidence that changing implicit attitudes has any significant, let alone durable, impact on reducing biased or discriminatory behaviors. In short, the construct itself has numerous validity issues, and the training has no demonstrable benefit.
Five references are given for this claim
7.) Training to avoid “microaggressions” doesn’t work.
. . . However, although the microaggressions framework goes back to 1974, there is virtually no systematic research detailing if and how microaggressions are harmful, for whom, and under what circumstances (indeed, there is not even robust conceptual clarity in the literature as to what constitutes a microaggression). There is no systematic empirical evidence that training on microaggressions has any significant or long-term effects on behavior, nor that it correlates with any other positive institutional outcomes.
In fact, when presented with canonical microaggressions, black and Hispanic respondents overwhelmingly find them to be inoffensive – and we have ample reason to believe that sensitizing people to perceive and take greater offense at these slights actually would cause harm: the evidence is clear and abundant that increased perceptions of racism have adverse mental and physical consequences for minorities. In short, not only is there no evidence that training on microaggressions is valuable for improving the well-being of people from historically marginalized or disadvantaged groups, there is reason to believe it could actually be counter-productive to that end.
Two references are given for this claim, one written by the author
8.) Mandatory Training Causes Additional Blowback
Although diversity-related training programs are generally ineffective, and often bring negative side-effects, they tend to work better (or at least, be less harmful) when they are opt-in. Mandatory training causes people to engage with the materials and exercises in the wrong frame of mind: adversarial and resentful. Consequently, mandatory training often leads to more negative feelings and behaviors, both towards the company and minority co-workers. This effect is especially pronounced among the people who need the training most. Yet roughly 80% of diversity-related training programs in the U.S. seem to be mandatory.
If an institution is going to include diversity-related training, it should offer it as a resource for those who want to learn more. . .
Seven references are given for this claim
9.) Training Comes at the Expense of Other Priorities
We are in a period of educational austerity. Creating, implementing and ensuring compliance with diversity-related training programs is expensive. In a world where these training programs consistently advanced diversity and inclusion goals within an organization, or enhanced intergroup cooperation and overall productivity, then these costs could be justified – even during a time of belt-tightening. However, it’s a different dynamic when the training is typically ineffective or even counterproductive. Worse, it often crowds out much more substantial efforts that could be undertaken to actually enhance diversity and inclusion within institutions.
Now the last point is moot if the others be true, so it’s not really necessary to discuss it.
About more recent findings, all I can say is that I’ve paid attention to the literature, and haven’t seen these nine conclusions overturned at all. In fact, they seem to have been supported even more strongly. But this raises one questions beyond, “why are so many companies and universities doing it, then?” (Another answer beyond “it makes them look good” is to lessen their legal liability in bias cases. But if training doesn’t work, how much liability does that lessen?)
The question is this: “What do we do, then?”
This presumes there is indeed a problem of racial tension and a problem of racism in companies and universities. I don’t think anyone can deny that. Whether the racism is “structural”—built into the system—is in most cases dubious, but every organization has racism because every organism has racists. The question then becomes, “if this is a serious problem, how do we defuse it?”
My own way of phrasing the relevant question is “How do we reduce the divisiveness and mutual antipathy between groups?”
I am no expert here, but suggest a few things:
a.) DO NOT create and enforce speech codes, and DO NOT, for the reasons stated above, enforce bias training. For bias training all too often turns out to be ideological brainwashing, setting group against group.
b.) DO create discussions about the First Amendment for entering students to take. (And push for a Kalven-like amendment in your school.)
c.) DO NOT separate groups by creating “affinity housing” or any such segregated institution (graduations included) that is gender- or race-specific. In fact, try to bring people together, but not to discuss their differences or to air grievances. It may be my kumbayah attitude, but I feel that the more experience people have with each other, the more they apprehend and appreciate their common humanity. As the old song from “South Pacific” goes “You have to be carefully taught.” DEI training is a form of careful teaching that sets group against group.
d.) DO NOT racialize everything. It is divisive and does not serve to create a community of supportive people.
e.) Create a supportive network for individuals based on their personal issues. One way is therapy, and there is a case to be made to have gender- or race-sensitive therapists on tap.
This program won’t endear me to many, I know, but if the present practices aren’t working, we have to think of others. Not just think of them, either—we have to see if they “work” by achieving the goals they’re supposed to achieve. As far as possible, interventions should be empirically supported.
Oh, and about inequities: differences in representation of groups that, to a Kendi-an, are prima facie evidence of bigotry. That’s a much more complicated issue that I’ve discussed before and will take up again some time. But not today!