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Does Diversity Training Work? We Don’t Know — And Here Is Why

Does Diversity Training Work? We Don’t Know — And Here Is Why

by Starling Insights

Starling Insights Editorial Board


In a Washington Post article last month, Starling Advisor Betsy Levy Paluck, a professor of psychology and public and international affairs at Princeton, calls for collective action to determine which diversity training methods are efficacious, if any.

In the past few years, top companies have accelerated their recruitment of chief diversity officers and have spent billions on training packages for their employees. However, this investment has yet to yield any clear results, and has left many questions unanswered.

"[W]e don't have good evidence for what works," Paluck writes. "We're treating a pandemic of discrimination and racial and religious resentment with untested drugs."

While it may seem impossible to test the effectiveness of diversity training packages, there are ways to do so. For example, training could be rolled out across randomly chosen groups in an organization, comparing the employees that received training against those that have not.

However, the lack of empirical data has arisen from a reluctance on both sides of the equation. CEOs do not want to discover that their diversity training has failed, or risk facing a lawsuit by sharing data. And diversity trainers selling untested programs are hesitant to risk negative results from a study. However, collective action problems require collective solutions, and studies that combine multiple corporations and training methods could shield participants from those risks.

"[I]f we don't study what works when it comes to diversity initiatives, we know what will almost surely follow: another crime of hate, followed by a surge in diversity trainings that might not help at all," Paluck concludes.

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