Death of D&I Training? Don’t Think So

 -  10/1/12

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In recent years, criticism has been leveled at corporate diversity and inclusion training. Doubts about its effectiveness reached a crescendo in 2006 when Harvard researchers published a study that found that D&I training did little to boost diversity in management. The business press continues to question the impact of D&I training. In March 2012, for example, both Forbes and HBR flatly declared: “Diversity training doesn’t work.”

New research by Catalyst suggests otherwise. When deployed strategically, D&I training can work — especially among an often-overlooked group: white men.

D&I Education: Alive and Well
To study the immediate and lasting impacts of D&I training, Catalyst followed the progress of a global engineering company, Rockwell Automation, as it leveraged learning programs conducted by Portland, Ore.-based leadership development group White Men as Full Diversity Partners, to help transform its work culture and promote inclusion. The report, “Calling All White Men,” evaluates the partnership’s strategy and success.

Senior leaders in Rockwell Automation’s North American sales division invited people managers — mostly white men — to participate in learning labs conducted by White Men as Full Diversity Partners. The following premises guided Rockwell’s engagement with the program:

1) White men have a central role to play in promoting inclusion.
2) White men — not just women and racial or ethnic minorities — have a gender and racial or ethnic identity that matters.
3) To be effective and inclusive leaders, white men must recognize that, by virtue of their predominance in positions of power, they have collective privileges over women and non-whites.

Managers who participated in these labs were immersed in a three-and-a-half-day experience. They focused on developing essential leadership skills for promoting inclusion and committed to practicing these new skills.

What Was the Impact?
Within four months of the experience, Catalyst found that managers’ participation had a positive influence in the workplace, including:

• A culture-shift: A decline in negative gossip. In some workgroups, lab participants’ colleagues rated the incidence of workplace gossip as much as 39 percent lower. This change is noteworthy, since women and minorities disproportionately experience uncivil acts in the workplace.
• Mindset shifts: Managers began letting go of the myth of meritocracy. After the labs, there was a 17 percent increase in how much managers agreed that white men have advantages over women and non-whites. Since biases flourish when managers and companies propagate the myth of meritocracy, unseating this myth is an important step for Rockwell Automation in eliminating bias and promoting inclusion.
• Behavior shifts: Managers improved on five key behaviors for inclusion. From seeking out and exploring varied perspectives to becoming more direct in addressing emotionally charged points of difference, managers improved on critical skills for leading in today’s diverse marketplace.

Effective D&I: Making It Work
The study offers lessons that can be learned from this experience:

1) Focus on leadership. When white men come to see inclusiveness as a matter of leadership effectiveness, they begin to see themselves as part of the solution rather than the problem.
2) Encourage senior leader commitment and participation. If senior leaders don’t attend and encourage others to follow their lead, few people — especially men — will want to participate.
3) Create an experiential format. Rather than being lectured, program participants engage in challenging dialogue and self-reflection.
4) Develop opportunities for practice. This program is not a “one-and-done.” Through alumni groups and by providing opportunities to practice, Rockwell Automation supports participants’ application of what they learned.

While there isn’t an easy solution for effective D&I, one of the first steps to lasting workplace change is to ensure that white men are part of the formula for inclusion.

Jeanine Prime is vice president of research, and Heather Foust-Cummings is senior director of research at Catalyst. They can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.