Jun 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

Why Corporate America’s diversity trainings fall short

Illustration of quarter pattern with one penny

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's death have started conversations about racism in workplaces across America and prompted companies to bring in educators and experts to lead trainings.

Yes, but: These trainings often fail to bring about the necessary transformation.

The big picture: The U.S. spends $8 billion on diversity training every year, per McKinsey, but racism persists in corporate America. Too often, these workshops are one-off events that cannot address structural issues or change mindsets, experts tell Axios.

What they're saying: "The data in sociology show pretty conclusively that these trainings do not work," says Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.

  • More training does not lead to increased hiring of employees of color or better representation in leadership roles.

In fact, diversity training — when conducted as one-time sessions — can actually have negative effects on company culture.

  • "The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash," Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev write in the Harvard Business Review.
  • "Often these trainings instill frustration and resentment in the people who are required to attend," says Wingfield. And Black workers or other workers of color often feel that the initiatives are neither genuine nor capable of addressing underlying problems, she says.

The bottom line: "It's an easy way to do something without doing a lot," Wingfield says. "It takes a lot more time to think about the hiring practices, the organizational structures or the everyday things that are happening."

Go deeper: Diversity and inclusion training goes home with workers

Go deeper