December 20, 2022

Lack of Empirical Studies on the Efficacy of Diversity Trainings Leaves DEI Open to Criticism

Since the Trump administration, but especially since the political and social upheaval of the spring/summer of 2020 employers and businesses, along with many other segments of US society, have placed an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion in hiring and training practices. The backlash over the last two years has been stark, with broadside attacks against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, critical race theory allegedly taking over public school systems, among many others.

Much like sexual harassment training, diversity training’s detractors claim that these initiatives have no meaningful effect or even have negative impacts. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Princeton professor of psychology and public and international affairs Betsy Levy Paluck laments that although supporters of DEI initiatives and trainings feel strongly that such methods are the right way to go, there is little solid empirical evidence to refute the criticisms.

This is not because the initiatives don’t necessarily have positive impacts, but rather that there is just a dearth of research about their effects. Professor Paluck recounts her own experience trying to measure the effects and outcomes of a large company’s newly adopted diversity trainings only for the agreement to fall apart weeks before beginning the study over concerns of image and data sensitivity. Despite her best efforts, the company plowed forward with the training without measuring its impacts.

Paluck argues that things must change if initiatives are to work and to shield them from vague political attacks. This means that corporations have to allow their initiatives to be monitored and measured even if there is a chance of some negative PR. Researchers, too, must do their part by helping to create effective measurements that can minimize corporate America’s hesitancy of being studied.

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