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Published on March 28th, 2012 | by Graeme Imrie

Harvard Business Review Trapped in 1992

While scanning some business blogs, we came across a piece called Diversity Training Doesn’t Work by Peter Bregman, a ‘strategic advisor’ and business writer published in various management journals.  The article addresses Bregman’s views on the value of ‘diversity training’ (an archaic term that makes us cringe) in relation to the travails of a media outfit called Bedia, which he describes as an old boy’s club.  Bregman to his client, an HR Manager: ” There are two reasons to do diversity training. One is to prevent lawsuits. The other is to create an inclusive environment in which each member of the community is valued, respected, and can fully contribute their talents. That includes reducing bias and increasing the diversity of the employee and management population”.

Bregman also cites a 2007 Harvard study in his claim that ‘diversity training’ has no effect: a handily editorialized view.  The statistical study actually finds that while many organizations’ diversity initiatives between 1971 and 2002 did not increase minority representation or change attitudes, the most cost-effective methods of increasing workplace diversity were the least commonly used.  Moreover, the study did not contemplate the financial results of the firms.

That the HBR publishes such old-school thinking is a stark reminder that the concept of workplace diversity is still misunderstood.  While some companies do an amazing job of diversity and inclusion, many more languish in the dark ages of doing nothing or – note Bregman’s ranking of the reasons – only providing sensitivity training to shield themselves from litigation stemming from ill-treatment of LGBTs and other groups.

Bregman’s correct that truly inclusive environments allow staff to fully contribute their talents, but frankly that’s a means to an end.  No business ever did anything just because it’s virtuous. Creating workplace diversity, like spending on R&D is a stimulus package for a company’s internal knowledge economy.  When people of all stripes are free to think and act like themselves, it creates intellectual assets and leads to better profitability.  Diversity is a voyage of discovery that involves focused recruitment and talent management, progressive policies, leadership champions, community involvement.  Like all facets of corporate culture it is deliberate and cultivated, but it can’t simply be ‘trained’ into an organization.

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