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Why Diversity training alone doesn't work?

The US companies have an increasing needs for their employees to not only appreciate people from diverse culture (and markets), put any bias aside, but also to turn that appreciation to competitive advantage.

So, even if people bring prejudice to work with them, they must learn to act as though they have none. The reasons, over and above human decency, are sensible.

This means that the organizational cultures must change forcing not only the tolerance, but the acceptance of differences, even if individual biases remain.

Empathy- Diversity

It is easier said than done, the sad fact is that the one day of training, one video, or single weekend diversity training courses do not really seem to budge the bias of those employees that have deep prejudice against one or another, whether it be male against female, baby boomer against Millennial, African American against Hispanics, or heterosexuals against people of different sexual orientation and vice versa in all of these cases.

Actually some of the diversity courses, can cause more damage than help especially if conducted by facilitators that use blame and guilt methods in their training; some of these programs can raise false expectation by promising too much, or simply create an atmosphere of confrontation instead of understanding, generate heightened tensions that divide groups in the workplace, calling even greater attention to these differences, and creating more exclusion than inclusion where it becomes “US” vs. “THEM”. To understand what can be done, it helps to first understand the nature of prejudice itself

The roots of prejudice

Some hatred to one another as individuals, groups, ethnicities, religions or even sexual orientation are rooted in childhood memories that keep this hatred alive over the years, as each new generation is steeped in hostile biases like the one before.

The psychological price of loyalty to one’s own group can be antipathy toward another, especially when there is a long history of hostility between the groups.

Prejudices are a kind of emotional learning that occurs early in life, making these reactions especially hard to eradicate entirely, even in people who as adults feel it is wrong to hold them and consider themselves open minded people. The emotions of prejudice start in childhood while the beliefs that are used to justify them come later in life.

Even if you take a moment to try to change your prejudice, understand that it is a lot easier to change your intellectual beliefs then your deep feelings. In your mind you may no longer feel prejudice, but you can still feel woozy if you need to deal one on one with a person from that background depending on the circumstances.

The power of the stereotypes, in the mind, are that they are self-confirming. It is the unconscious bias that we all have where we are more readily to remember instances that support the stereotype while tending to discount instances that challenge it.

The danger is not only from being bias, but from the more subtle forms of bias or acting with covert bias, where a rationale other than prejudice is given to justify bias actions.

For example: A male senior manager who believes that he has no prejudices rejecting a female job applicant, allegedly not because of her gender, but because her education and experience are not quite right for the job, while hiring a male applicant with about the same background. Or it might take the form of giving better performance evaluation for an employee that went to the same Ivy school, or came from the same city, share the same political beliefs, or even share the same ethnicity than to someone else from a different background at the same level of performance.


Since long-held biases cannot be so easily weeded out, the solutions lie in that:

  • Organizations need to embrace “zero tolerance for intolerance” and not only on papers as many organization do nowadays, where they have dazzling statements on their websites’ vision and mission but are not actually part of their culture.

  • Need to trickle down from the top leadership, who need not only to embrace it by breath it, live by it, and apply it.

  • Need to be part of the performance evaluations of the organizations’ executives tight in with their promotions, rewards and bonuses.

Management cannot turn a blind eye on any bias or prejudice actions, as it allows discrimination to strive. If nothing, is done the consequences is letting the cancer of prejudice spread till it kills the organization

If the climate and culture of an organization is based on the respect of individuals, valuing them for who they are, and though bias may not budge, but acts of prejudice can be crushed and nipped at the bud

A message must be sent that acting on any racist impulses will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Raising the collective awareness that bias and/ or harassment are not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Encourage people to speak out against even minimal acts of discrimination or harassment as offensive jokes, gestures, comments, or as simple as using wall calendars that are demeaning to women.

The simple act of standing for whatever is right and objecting to whatever is wrong establishes a culture where bias and discrimination are rejected. Silence condones the wrong Actions, silence is a form of violence. If you stay silent when someone is treated wrongly, it can be you next time, and you won’t find anyone to speak out for you.

One of the main keys to minimize bias and prejudice is to encourage empathy and acceptance to the degree that people come to understand the pain of those who feel discriminated against, as they put themselves in their shoes.

In summary, it is more practical to try to suppress the expression of bias rather than trying to eliminate the attitude itself; stereotypes change very slowly, if at all. What can make a difference, is sustained team building towards a common goal, highlighting the similarities that we have as human beings rather than the differences, looking at each other as equal peers, increasing solidarity between the teams is maximizing the excellence of a team’s work to work in harmony rather than disarray lets them take advantage of the full talent of every team member. Looking at people as people and not put them in a box (She is women, He is Hispanic, she is too young, he is physically challenged, she is gay) - just deal with people as people, as human beings.

To stop battling prejudice in the workplace is to miss great opportunities that modern organizations can’t afford: Taking advantage of the creative and entrepreneurial possibilities that a diverse workforce can offer, operating in harmony, is likely to come to better, more creative, and more effective solutions than those same people working in isolation. It is time to start uncomfortable conversations to get comfortable and accepting over time.

Let our differences make a difference in the world

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Sahar Andrade, MB.BCh

Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership Consultant- Certified Social Media Strategist

Sahar Consulting, LLC


I help corporations and organizations create/ increase their employee engagement through Diversity, Inclusion, effective communication & Cross- Cultural leadership practices that result in everyone feeling appreciated, valued and respected for who they are; elevating morale and harmony hence increasing their productivity which translates to more revenues.

Let me help you Invest in your number ONE asset: Your employees

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