How to Design Effective Diversity Training Programs

Topic(s): diversity, organizational performance, training
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (November, 2013)
Article: A meta-analytic evaluation of diversity training outcomes
Authors: Z.T. Kalinoski, D. Steele-Johnson, E.J. Peyton, K.A. Leas, J. Steinke, N.A. Bowling
Reviewed by: William McLane

Researchers have long touted the benefits of diversity as a means to improve project productivity. But how can organizations achieve these beneficial outcomes using diversity training?

Studies show that diversity within organizations (including gender, ethnicity, knowledge, skills, etc.) can ultimately lead to both positive and negative outcomes. On the positive side, organizations can benefit from having a larger applicant pool and customer base, improved capacity for creativity and innovation, and higher customer satisfaction. But diversity has also been shown to increase absenteeism, conflict, and discrimination lawsuits, reduce revenue, and lower morale.


Diversity training is a course of instruction aimed at increasing the participants’ cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills in order to benefit an organization. For better or for worse, it plays a key role in determining the impact diversity has on the company.

The most influential components of diversity training are the characteristics of the participants, trainer, training environment, and training design. The authors of the current study suggest that diversity training is most effective when it is active (e.g., role playing, simulations, games), involves social interaction, is conducted in person by a trainer from within the organization, spans multiple sessions (each lasting a minimum of 4 hours), focuses on a single diversity attribute (e.g. race, LGBT, disability), and has a diverse group of trainees.

Under optimal conditions, effective diversity training can have a beneficial impact on employees’ knowledge and thought processes, behavior, perception, attitudes, and self-efficacy about diversity. These better outcomes allow organizations to reap the benefits of diversity and avoid the consequences resulting from the absence, or poor implementation, of diversity training.


In sum, this article provides a greater understanding of how diversity training characteristics interact, and it explains their potential to benefit (or harm) organizations. With this information, trainers and managers can design and execute diversity training seminars more effectively, with an end result of maximizing optimal organizational outcomes and successful diversity and inclusion initiatives.


Kalinoski, Z. T., Steele-Johnson, D., Peyton, E. J., Leas, K. A., Steinke, J., & Bowling, N. (2013). A metaanalytic evaluation of diversity training outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34(8), 1076-1104.