Abstract: Using Diversity Trainings to Reduce Racial Inequity: Are They Effective or Just a Cya Technique? (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

40P Using Diversity Trainings to Reduce Racial Inequity: Are They Effective or Just a Cya Technique?

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Susan McCarter, PhD, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
James Granberry, BS, MSW Student, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, NC
Background and Purpose: Following a racialized incident in Philadelphia, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 coffee-shops on May 29, 2018 in order to provide racial bias training to approximately 175,000 employees. In February of 2019, Gucci releases a black turtleneck sweater resembling “blackface” (Kaur, 2019). Gucci responds to the public outcry by launching four initiatives designed to embed cultural diversity and awareness in the company (Gucci, 2019).  Virtually every Fortune 500 company conducts diversity trainings, even though hundreds of studies contend they do not work (Dobbin & Kalev, 2018).  Are these efforts designed to cover corporate behinds or is there any empirical evidence to suggest they actually make a difference?

Methods: A systematic review of the extant literature on implicit bias/diversity trainings and their effectiveness was conducted in March 2019. Inclusion criteria: US only; since 2005; and empirically-based.

Results: Abramovitz and Blitz (2015) and Bezrukova, Jehn, and Spell (2012) argue that there is very little evidence to suggest whether diversity trainings work and whether any change is sustained. They found that no single activity alone will lead to organizational change in relation to racial equity – but that diversity trainings that included knowledge, skills/behaviors, and values/beliefs, were more successful.  Dobbin and Kalev’s (2018) study noted that corporate policies designed to reduce discrimination and promote diversity by controlling managerial bias, often backfire.

Anand and Winters (2008) and Cocchiara, Connerley, and Bell’s (2010) research reveals that diversity trainings must include operationalizing what the training is intended to achieve, continuous skill building, and multiple facets of the problem and effective solutions. comprehensive to be effective. This poster details current promising training curricula as well as evidence-based pitfalls. “Positioning diversity as a competency has created another major paradigm shift; the assumption is no longer that only certain groups need training, but rather that all employees need to be more cross-culturally competent in an increasingly global world” (Anand & Winters, 2008, p. 362).

Conclusion: Consistent across the literature is the finding that increasing individuals’ knowledge is not enough to sustain meaningful change. Devine, Forscher, Austin, and Cox (2012) found that education can play a role in increasing awareness, but training and skill-building is necessary to produce changes in implicit bias.  King, Gulick, and Avery (2010) contend that in order to create sustained transformation, anti-bias/anti-racism trainings must address an individual’s/ system’s 1) knowledge, 2) values/beliefs, and 3) behaviors/ skills. 

It is not enough to send employees to training to learn about bias, companies and universities must also foster value checking and reflection work and must prepare their employees, faculty, staff, and students with skills to do their work differently if we genuinely wish to achieve racial equity. Efforts that are longitudinal, embedded in the organizations’ missions, include rigorous data analyses, have all-levels problem-solving, and offer education, examine beliefs, and teach skills have proven more effective as compared to education only, single topics that are not connected to overall organizational change.

Keywords: implicit bias, diversity training, racial equity workshops