McDiversity training is in great demand. With more and more attention focused on employee skills in the area of diversity, organizations are providing their workers with a wide range of opportunities to learn from speakers, coaches, trainers, and even the World Wide Web. McDonalds has become the yardstick for corporate efficiency and standardization.
However, quality diversity training is neither quick nor the same for everyone. According to a recent survey of public and private human resource specialists, more than 70 percent of training programs are one day or less in length. Another survey by the National Urban League examined what 5,500 American Workers thought about the value of diversity training. Only 39 percent agreed with the statement, “Training and education from my employer helps me to understand the impact of diversity and improve business results.” Learning many job skills, such as presentation or Internet skills, is a fairly straightforward process. It requires learning “X” amount of information and “X’ amount of skills. The process is pretty straightforward and standardized. Developing diversity competencies, or what I term diversity consciousness, is much more complex and demanding. Successful training, or perhaps I should say education, has to be highly interactive and tailored to the needs of the individual. The challenge is not just to learn diversity skills, but to use, practice, and refine these skills on the job.
Often, advertisements for diversity training emphasize that it is fun, entertaining, and easy. One company claims you can learn all about diversity by playing a card game. Another firm advertises a program that uses two videos to teach employees and managers all they need to know in order to be culturally competent. Still another trainer offers a two-day course, “Developing Cross-Cultural Competencies.” She describes it as an “excellent course for those requiring an in-depth understanding of other cultures in order to succeed in their jobs.” In the span of only two days, participants will develop a number of competencies, including learning to communicate effectively across cultures. This is utter nonsense. In the span of two days, how can we unlearn biases that have taken a lifetime to develop? How do we reinvent ourselves in a workshop in order to start respecting those differences that instill fear in our hearts? And how do we develop cross-cultural communication, teaming, and conflict management skills by listening to an inspirational speaker or spending a weekend at a retreat?
The answer is we don’t. When diversity training is described this way, it creates unrealistic expectations. McDiversity training is a sham; and a high-risk sham at that. Why is McDiversity training so popular? Unquestioned, received knowledge is clearly more efficient and less time consuming. It allows employers to CYA (“cover their ass”) and then move on to other things. For example, many trainers present factual knowledge in a straightforward, lecture style format; and disseminate information about particular groups. The emphasis is on talking about diversity rather than thinking through diversity. Often trainers use those materials that are easiest to use and require the least time. Such teaching methods leave little time for digestion, reflection, discussion and application. This approach is attractive to those trainers who do not want to be questioned or do not have an excellent grasp of the subject matter.
McDiversity training inevitably leads to considerable resistance. Participants may not take training seriously, or they may be downright hostile or even refuse to participate. And as the following quote makes clear, the resentment is not just coming from white employees.
“This whole diversity thing is a waste of time. At the business where I work, there are 3 minorities and senior management keeps telling us how ‘diversity friendly’ we are. Last month, we had something my supervisor called diversity training. Personally, I’m wondering how you can teach this kind of thing. As minorities, we deal with this stuff every day of our lives. Now, management thinks they can make everything better."
Attending a training class for one-half day is a joke. It will not begin to undo years and years of prejudice and discrimination. A certain comfort level needs to be established before dealing with diversity issues in the workplace. This requires a certain degree of familiarity and trust in each other. In many cases, individuals are being asked to instantly question and possibly unlearn values and behaviors that have been reinforced over many years. This is clearly an evolving process which takes time and commitment. What’s more, the learning curve is different for different people. A common criticism of McDiversity training is that workers find it irrelevant. They do not understand how it relates to them or their jobs. Moreover, there is no follow-up once workers leave the training session. In other words, once the session is over, it’s back to business as usual. Clearly, effective diversity training is a process, not an event. It requires a lot more time than hours, days, or even weeks. More importantly, it takes a strong, sustained commitment by workers and their employers. After all, when it comes to diversity, we are lifelong learners. My next column will be “Keeping Diversity at a Distance.”