Today in discouraging news: A new study from the Harvard Business Review suggests that most workplace diversity initiatives and training don't actually succeed in making the workplace more diverse. Why? Because the study, which examined three decades of data from 800 companies, found that 75 percent of companies used threats (e.g., "Don't discriminate, or you'll pay the price") to implement them. This backfires because, as the authors of the study write, "threats, or 'negative incentives' don't win converts."
Moreover, participants who were required to take diversity training reported feeling more anger and animosity toward different groups afterward. Ultimately, companies that instituted mandatory diversity training saw its share of black managers decrease by 9 percent, while the number of Asian-Americans and women in management positions fell between 4 and 5 percent.
The study also looked at performance ratings at companies and found that employers tend to "lowball" women and people of color in their performance reviews. The researchers also found that companies that employ hiring tests when promoting or hiring employees often did so selectively. At one West Coast food company, for example, the researchers found that managers were hiring and promoting their white friends without testing them while making applicants of color take the hiring supervisor test.
While the results may seem dismal — a lack of diversity in the American workplace is a serious problem, with women and people of color often being penalized for speaking out about it — there was a bright side to the study. The 25 percent of companies that emphasized mentoring programs as well as voluntary diversity training saw increases between 9 and 13 percent in women, black men, Hispanic men, and Asian-American men and women in management roles. When people don't have to show up to the training, they're apparently more likely to do it of their own volition.
Other actions that work, according to the study: Making salaries more transparent so that employers and employees alike were able to know if any section of a company was biased toward a particular group, and accountability, because when people realized they had to explain their actions (such as why they gave someone a certain performance review), they were more inclined to judge the work more thoughtfully.
All this is to say that diversity initiatives can and do work — companies just have to implement them the right way.