Diversity and Diversity Training

Donald Clark appears to be settling into the role of the voice of the closed society. His latest foray into this is his recent column arguing that diversity is "wrong-headed". Leaving aside the question of which monoculture we would settle upon were we to do away with diversity (I'm thinking Hopi, maybe, or perhaps Maori) his argument is based on a short-sighted and narrow interpretation of what diversity means.

Clark's point of departure is Goran Adamson’s TheTrojan Horse. It is naturally not available as open content, so we have to rely on additoonal sources to look at the argument. An earlier report of his, Immigrants and Political Participation, he argues "successful assimilation of immigrants mainly is achieved by downplaying the exotic implication of group-based difference." (p.40)

Terri Murray summarizes, "multicultural ideology makes a fetish, like the racial theories of yore, of ethnic diversity... the multicultural view of immigrants doesn’t treat them as individuals who have a basic human need for self-determination; rather, 'the immigrant' is an abstract type, a species, a race." Worse, writes Murray, "When it comes to ethnic groups themselves, the rights of dissenting minorities within these groups are rarely defended. That’s because the multicultural agenda treats ethnic subcultures as homogeneous groups."

Clark takes this one step further, addressing diversity training. He writes, "Major studies from Dobbin, Kalev and Kochan show that diversity training does not increase productivity and may, in fact, produce a backlash. Most don’t know if it works as evaluations are as rare as unicorns"

Clark makes his case in ten points, and we'll address them in turn. The headings are Clark's, not mine.

1. Ideology of Diversity

The case in both Adamson and Clark is that the choice is being force upon us between individual freedom and the rights of a culture to assert itself. We'll revisit this theme many times. But to begin, the argument in favour of diversity is itself being presented as an ideology, against which no dissent is allowed. 

"‘Diversity’ is a word that cannot be questioned," writes Clark. "The rhetoric that surrounds diversity in itself seems to censor debate, a diversity of views being the first victim."

The existence of Adamson's report and Clark's column are, of course, counter-examples to this proposition, and there is no shortage of writing against the concept of diversity available for anyone to read. A quick search reveals the article Against Diversity published by the National Association of Scholars, a similar article published in the Economist, Walter Benn Michaels against diversity in New Left Review, and the list goes on and on.

Indeed, I wonder just what sort of opposition it is that they feel has been prohibited. Some of the more extreme expressions against diversity (of which, again, there have been many) speak of dress codes, language restrictions, and prohibitions against some religions. At a certain point the opposition to diversity tends to blend with outright racism. It is no surprise to see people react poorly to this (though one observes in the Trump and UKIP campaigns a suggestion that even this maay be tolerable).

Clark seems to suggest that this 'ideology' in favour of diversity is what supports the phenomenon of diversity training, despite evidence speaking against it. "The vast amount of time and money spent on diversity training, when evaluated, is found wanting, mostly ineffective, even counter-productive," he writes. It's an old argument, a favourite of the Harvard Business Review set, and not surprising to see it repeated here.

The same could be said (and, indeed, has been said) about training in general. Yet workplace training persists, not because whatever it promotes is held forth as some sort of ideology, but because workplace training officers don't know better, and because managers cling to traditional and outmoded views about training.

It's not surprising at all that forced diversity training can be ineffective; people respond poorly to coercion. But at the same time,  "When attendance is voluntary, diversity training is followed by an increase in managerial diversity," said Alexandra Kalev, a sociologist at the University of Arizona, (once of the researchers cited above).

The 'ideology of diversity' argument is a red herring. It is not based in fact. And it fails as an explanation of the failure of training.

2. Groupthink

Clark writes, "Companies, worldwide spend many hundreds of millions of dollars each year on diversity training. The tragic truth is that most of this is wasted. Groupthink seems to be at the heart of the matter." 

'Groupthink' is a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis to describe what occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment” (p. 9).

Is that what is happening here? Clark cites "groupthink among compliance training companies, who simply do what they do without supporting evidence and tout ineffective ‘courses’. Groupthink in HR, who find it easier to just run ‘courses’ rather than tackle real business problem." This sounds like the problem of a monoculture, not one particular to proponents of diversity.

Indeed, diversity - a broader sense of diversity than the caricature being criticized by Clark here - is often offered as a response against groupthink. As this article states, "Groupthink occurs when a highly homogeneous, cohesive group fails to critically analyse and evaluate alternative ideas for the sake of harmony and conformity. In such a group, disagreement with the consensus is discouraged, which eliminates independent thinking and creativity."

It is important to understand that diversity is more than the mere celebration of exotic cultures. There are many ways in which people can be diverse, and the promotion of diversity is centered around encouragement of distinct perspectives and points of view, not just the elimination of offensive behaviour.

This is called 'thought diversity'. "Thought diversity goes beyond the affirmation of equality - simply recognizing differences and responding to them. Instead, the focus is on realizing the full potential of people, and in turn the organization, by acknowledging and appreciating the potential promise of each person’s unique perspective and different way of thinking”, summarizes a 2013 study by Deloitte Consulting.

3. Ill-defined

It may be that Clark was thinking along similar lines as he wrote his piece, as his next argument focuses on the vagueness of the term 'diversity'.

"One could invoke the idea that individuals are unique, and this uniqueness is paramount. Unfortunately, it then focuses on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies," he writes.

What Clark sees to be doing is drawing a distinction between what might be called individual-based diversity and group-based diversity. Indivisual-based diversity might include a person's unique point of view, perhaps their income level, and the like, while (he says) "But ethnicity, gender and so on are terms associated with the collective, not the individual."

I'm sure this would come as a surprise to people who happen to find themselves Chinese, women, or gay. I still remember seeing a documentary about race, where the speaker was objecting to the idea of people being 'colour blind'. "My blackness is who I am," said the man. "It is myself, it is my identity."

And that's the thing about race, culture, religion, gender, orientation, and the other terms associated, as Clark says, with the collective. There is no 'black collective'. Or, to put it another way, all forms of fiversity apply equally well to the group and to the individual. It is a simple and fundamental point of logic, known since Aristotle, that any property can be used to define a category.

One of the fundamental elements of diversity training is the effort to show people are fundamentally individuals and that it is inappropriate to treat them as though they were all the same. Even in a close-knit community (the Mormons, say, or Cook Islanders) it is a category error to create and apply 'collective' properties (like, say, "all Mormons wear white shirts", or "all Cook Islanders love the ocean") to individuals.

We don't need to define diversity; only people consumed with group identity need to do that. The core idea behind diversity is that we encourage and respect differences between individuals. The prrinciple is the sae whether we are talking about their race or their taste in motocycles.

4, Lazy Cultural Relativism

As someone who has spent a lifetime as one who would be defined as a 'cultural relativist', I can say with assurance that there is nothing lazy about it. It is a constant effort to remind myself that other people may have different values, beliefs, and world-views than I do.

At the same time, I find that my own unique set of values, beliefs and world-views are substantially different from the majority, and I must struggle with this every day as well. For example, I believe that showing McDonalds advertising to children is morally wrong, I believe that people reason by means of similarity and metaphor, not logic and mathematics, and my world view does not include universals or laws of nature.

Clark writes, "a lazy cultural relativism descends, disallowing criticism of illiberal cultural norms. Freedom of speech is under attack from ‘trigger theory’, art is censored, honour crime not ruthlessly dealt with, FGM still prevalent. Any definition of diversity is glossed over and replaced with diversity plans."

This one-paragraph argument is itself lazy and poorly thought out. I understand that some people find the cultural practices of other cultures to be morally repugnant. I recognize they feel that way and may indeed even argue that way. Where we come into disagreement is when the other person represents their moral perspective as fact, and depicts their own culture as obviously superior to the other.

In the case of the four items listed by Clark, there are well-tolerated practices in my own culture, and his own culture, that are equally barbaric, and yet treated as normal. For example, one society that opposes 'honour killings' is fine with 'stand your ground' laws that permit legal homicide. Other societies that condemn female genital mutilation (FGM) as barbaric are fine with the routine practice of MGM (male genital mutilation).

For my own part, I believe that both murder and mutilation are both wrong, yet I have not found one culture on earth that believes these without reservation.

No, cultural relativism isn't lazy. Expressing a sanctimonious belief in your own world view is lazy. One-paragraph dismissals of difficult ethical philosophies are lazy.

5. Not an Intrinsic Good?

Clark argues that diversity is not an "intrinsic good", giving examples where sameness may be preferred to difference.

"Is polygamy better than monogamy? Will your coding team always benefit from having an even gender and ethnic mix or a ruthless focus on competence? Diversity rhetoric praises ethnic presence but could be a substitute for excellence and ideas?"

Clark slips into this short paragraph the old idea that support for diversity means sacrificing excellence. The suggestion is that by focusing on including (say) a person of colour on a team, we may be excluding a more qualified (or more competence, etc.) person who is not diverse.

This proposition depends on the idea that there is one set of properties - coding excellent, for example - that is relevant to team formation, and there are other sets of properties - cultural background, for example - that are not relevant. This presupposition depends in turn on the idea that the relevant set of properties could be identified and that differences in those properties could be measured in a statistically significant way.

And even if we can address all that it may well be that it is better overall to accept a less productive team in support of the principle that teams should be diverse. Because there is always more at stake than the performance of the individual team. If diversity is a value in society as a whole, this value may prevail whether or not it is a value in any particular case.

For example, consider airline pilots. It is arguable that we should ignore diversity in the cockpit because we want excellent pilots. But, first, it is arguable that even if women pilots aren't as good as men (a proposition which I doubt, by the way) it is demonstrably the case that they are good enough. And there is a need for girls to see examples of women pilots as role models.

This depends on the idea that diversity is a social good, of course. I believe it is - but again, this belief isn't a lazy belief, or even a popular belief. It most societies around the world, it is a minority belief. Which is what makes Clark's style in this article all the more astonishing.

6. Diversity as Conservatism

I don't automatically dismiss conservatism as wrong. But if it is, would it be an argument against diversity that it supports conservatism?

"Diversity is a deeply conservative idea masquerading as progressive," says Clark. "It replaces meritocracy with multiculturalism."

Let's stop right there for a moment. The concept of 'meritocracy' is deeply flawed and almost universally misapplied (this is the other part of the argument from the previous section). There are numerous arguments against the concept: it presupposes we can measure merit, it presupposes that merit reflects a person's worth, and it presupposes merit reflects an individual rather than their social of cultural background.

As Yong Zhao says, "The ideal of meritocracy is built on four assumptions. First, a society/authority can correctly identify the merit. Second, there are ways to accurately measure the merit. Third the merit is only individuals’ innate potential plus their efforts. In other words, it has nothing to do with their family background. Fourth, everyone has the same opportunity to develop the merit. None of these assumptions is true."

Moreover, meritocracy is morally wrong. As David Freedman writes, "Smart people should feel entitled to make the most of their gift. But they should not be permitted to reshape society so as to instate giftedness as a universal yardstick of human worth." Moreover, it is the gifts one has received in life that contribute to whatever qualities we call 'merit' - and luck does not convey any sort of moral primacy or quality of judgement. One only needs to observe the behaviour of the wealthy and gifted of British society to see that.

Where Clark is correct is that diversity brings with it difficult choices. As he observes, "From a feminist point of view, diversity may tolerate attitudes, cultural norms and behaviours that may prevent gender equality." Quite so. Nobody is automatically right in a diverse society. Every form of difference needs to, and has the right to, make a case. Ultimately it's about choice and deciding for oneself.

He also writes, " It prevents us from taking a secular view of the world, as we give in to relativism and acceptance." This is not true.I take a secular view of the world, as everyone knows. I also encourage those who wish to pursue a religious view of the world to do so. What 'diversity' means is that they can't force me to be religious, and I can't force them to be secular. Indeed, it's even a matter of bad taste to even try.

"The group trumps the individual," he writes. "It pits the poor against the poor. Ultimately, it is the dull traditionalism of conservatism." It does so only if we view these as struggles in which one or another type of diversity must ultimately prevail. But this is unreasonable. Nobody thinks that it is 'diversity' to hold that Sharia law ought to apply in all cases.

The people who oppose diversity are the ones pitting one group of people against another; they are, indeed, the ones who are representing them as groups in the first place.

7. Diversity does not lead to increased productivity

This was the major point raised by Adamson and others, and yet it begs the question: who said the objective of diversity was to increase productivity in the first place?

So we have Thomas Kochan saying, "There are no strong positive or negative effects of gender or racial diversity on business performance." But big deal. " According to the American Society for Training and Development's 2002 state of the training industry report, only one in 10 companies attempts to create results-based evaluations of its training programs."

Companies engage in diversity training to avoid litigation and human rights cases. They also do it because women and ethnic minorities (among others) are larger and larger parts of their customer base. To work in a global environment pretty much requires understanding of, and acceptance of, other cultures.

The five-year study referenced by Clark earlier and in this section provides an unambiguous statement in support of diversity:
Diversity is a reality in labor markets and customer markets today. To be successful in working with and gaining value from this diversity requires a sustained, systemic approach and long-term commitment. Success is facilitated by a perspective that considers diversity to be an opportunity for everyone in an organization to learn from each other how better to accomplish their work and an occasion that requires a supportive and cooperative organizational culture as well as group leadership and process skills that can facilitate effective group functioning.
The same authors continue:
training programs must help managers to develop the leadership and group process skills needed to facilitate constructive conflict and effective communication... raining programs that improve the skills of managers and team members may be particularly useful, but training alone is not likely to be sufficient. Organizations must also implement management and human resource policies and practices that inculcate cultures of mutual learning and cooperation. 
It's always a good idea to read the articles you cite.

8. Diversity shows virtually no effect

No doubt Clark means to say here that diversity training shows virtually no effect. Then it would make sense to quote Frank Dobbin saying "Practices that target managerial bias through…diversity training, show virtually no effect.”

Clark has cited this study numerous times through the years, though the number of citations it has received (969, according to Google Scholar) suggests that he protesteth too much when he says it was "ignored".  

It is worth noting, first of all, that Dobbin et.al. are not opposed to diversity itself. Indeed, the paper reads as supportive of diversity, with the authors surveying companies to find out what workss. That's why we read not simply that diversity training has no effect, but rather, a range of programs that do have an effect:

The most effective practices are those that establish organizational responsibility: affirmative action plans, diversity staff, and diversity task forces. Attempts to reduce social isolation among women and African Americans through networking and mentoring programs are less promising. Least effective are programs for taming managerial bias through education and feedback. 
Fair enough. But that's certainly not the persepective Clark would have us believe the authors represent.

9. More harm than good

Once again it is not clear whether Clark is talking about diversity in general or diversity training in particular (he appears to conflate the two throughout the article).

I think we can take it as a given that diversity programs, including training programs, can spark a backlash. There is ample empirical evidence of the backlash. The mere presence, for example, of women with an opinion seems to be very threatening to a certain subset of society. It is not surprising to see this in response to training programs as well. 

The anti-diversity backlash isn't unique to diversity training. Human resource writers have observed the backlash to all sorts of diversity programs, not just training. Even when the program is voluntary, it has triggered a backlash. It happens because the people who used to benefit from a monoculture no longer benefit. "The researchers reported that diversity efforts have led to increased numbers of women and minorities attaining managerial positions, but sometimes those efforts “can stimulate backlash among non-beneficiaries who may feel unfairly disadvantaged by these policies,” the report states."

It is not at all clear that this backlash constitutes "more harm than good". There was significant backlash against the freeing of the slaves in the mid 1800s in the United States, but this backlash not mean that the freeing of the slaves caused "more harm than good". Any time an unfairly privileged class of people loses that privilege, there will be a backlash.

10. No evaluation

It is not true that there has been no evaluation of diversity training programs, because then it would be impossible to state - as Clark has done consistently through this article - that diversity training has had no effect. Obviously some evaluation has taken place.

Clark cites another of Kalev's studies, this one a 2008 review of 830 companies. According to this article, the study found "the kind of diversity training exercises offered at most firms were followed by a 7.5 percent drop in the number of women in management. The number of black, female managers fell by 10 percent, and the number of black men in top positions fell by 12 percent."

But even this isn't the condemnation of diversity training Clark contends it is. The article continues:
The analysis did not find that all diversity training is useless. Rather, it showed that mandatory programs -- often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits -- were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company's business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.
So not only was there not no evaluation, the evaluation shows that in some cases diversity training let to positive outcomes.


I get that Clark is trying to be cute, layering the objections to diversity into a series of objections to diversity training. Had he given his writing a bit more effort and thought this intent may have shone through. But it did not, and I am not convinced that he cared.

Many of the articles offered by Clark against diversity training are arguments against the concept of diversity itself. And if you don't support diversity in the first place, you're not going to supporrt the idea of diversity training.

But the problem with diversity training isn't the fact that it is intended to promote diversity.  It can be argued (and I have done so in this post) that diversity itself is substantially valuable (and whether or not it promotes business productivity is irrelevant). You cannot have a fair and just society of any type without diversity, much less one that expects to work and thrive in a global economy.

And the failures of mandatory training are, well, failures of mandatory training. Ascribing the failure to the desire to promote diversity is inaccurate and unsupported by the evidence. Indeed, it feels like the purpose of this approach is to oppose diversity.

Clark is free to oppose diversity. Goodness knows, a substantial portion of his own compatriots do, to the point that they want to expel immigrants from the country (they probably have bad things to say about curry too). If he wants to align with the likes of Elizabeth Theresa May and Nigel Farage, he should just say so. This little dance around diversity training is a sham not worthy of the little effort it took to write.


  1. Had he given his writing a bit more effort and thought this intent may have shone through. But it did not, and I am not convinced that he cared. Clark is free to oppose diversity. Goodness knows, a substantial portion of his own compatriots do, to the point that they want to expel immigrants from the country (they probably have bad things to say about curry too). If he wants to align with the likes of Elizabeth May and Nigel Farage, he should just say so.
    I do care. Why should you align me with anyone? And it's Teresa May, not 'Elizabeth'. Had you done what you accused me of doing, “given your writing a bit more effort” you would have got this right. Love curry- eaten it all my life.
    This little dance around diversity training is a sham not worthy of the little effort it took to write.
    A sham! What an arrogant ending. For a man who supports 'diversity of thought' this suddenly gets all too personal. You’re better than this Stephen. Always had a lot of respect for you but I really do think you’ve fallen into replacing ‘diversity of thought’ with arrogance and insults.


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