Diversity training has an important purpose. As the workplace becomes increasingly diverse, employees are expected to frequently interact with coworkers, customers, and supervisors who are different from them. The nature of the workforce itself is continually changing, characterized by a higher percentage of female employees, racial or ethnic minority employees, and older employees. As a result, human resource managers have prioritized diversity training programs as a way to respond and adapt to the shifting workforce.
However, very little I-O psychology research has focused on best practices for implementing diversity training programs. A recent study aimed to fill this gap in the research by examining three distinct diversity training methods to determine which strategies are the most effective for changing or improving diversity-related attitudes.
DIVERSITY TRAINING STRATEGIES
The goal of diversity training programs is to foster positive intergroup relationships in a way that allows dissimilar individuals to work together effectively. However, trying to change attitudes and behavior can be a challenging task because many prejudicial attitudes are deeply-rooted within an individual. To determine which training method is most effective over time, the researchers (Lindsey, King, Hebl, & Levine, 2015) tested three diversity training strategies: perspective taking, goal setting, and stereotype discrediting.
The perspective taking strategy asks individuals to “step into someone else’s shoes” by imagining what it’s like to be a member of a different group. In other words, participants are asked to consider the experiences of dissimilar individuals as a way of understanding how those experiences may be different from their own.
Goal setting can be applied to diversity training programs by asking individuals to set personal goals that aim to improve diversity values and intergroup relations within their organization. For example, a diversity goal may be to use more inclusive language or to confront an individual who makes jokes about marginalized groups.
Stereotype discrediting aims to reduce prejudice and stereotyping of marginalized groups by confronting commonly held stereotypes. For example, a common stereotype will be presented to trainees, which will then be followed up with information that disproves the stereotype.
The researchers conducted an experiment that randomly assigned incoming college students to one of the three diversity training strategies. In addition, the training programs focused on diversity-related attitudes for either LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) or African American individuals.
Of the three training types, perspective taking resulted in the most positive change in diversity-related attitudes and behavior. Interestingly, perspective taking was effective at improving attitudes related to both LGB and African American individuals, even though participants received training related to only one of these groups. These findings suggest that perspective taking can have a crossover effect, meaning that participating in perspective taking can help individuals to have more positive feelings toward dissimilar others, even if the others were not the focus of the training. Overall, this suggests that organizations may not need to focus on every marginalized group in their training; rather, using perspective taking for just one group may help employees to be more sensitive to marginalized groups in general.
HOW DO DIVERSITY TRAINING PROGRAMS IMPROVE OUTCOMES?
Diversity programs are supposed to encourage positive attitudes and behavior toward individuals from dissimilar groups. But, how do diversity training programs improve attitudes and behavior? The current study found that diversity training programs influence employees’ motivation by creating an internal desire to respond to others without prejudice. Thus, it is this internal motivation to be less prejudice that leads to changes in diversity-related attitudes and behavior.
DIVERSITY TRAINING AND PERSONALITY
Individual characteristics may also influence whether or not a training program is successful. In the current study, individuals who were less empathetic benefitted more from the diversity training than individuals who were more empathetic. Because individuals high in empathy may already be aware of and sensitive to the needs of other individuals, they are less likely to need diversity training. As a result, organizations should consider how individual characteristics (like empathy) influence the need for diversity training.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The current study showed that not all diversity training programs are equally effective, and organizations must choose wisely in order to reap the benefits of diversity training. Overall, individuals who engaged in perspective taking showed the highest increase in diversity-related attitudes and behavior, suggesting that organizations should incorporate perspective taking into their training strategies. In addition, individual characteristics may influence which individuals are most in need of or most likely to benefit from diversity training. Organizations can administer surveys to employees that include questions about empathy or internal motivation to appear non-prejudicial as a means of identifying individuals for inclusion in diversity-related training.
Lindsey, A., King, E. B., Hebl, M., & Levine, N. (2014). The Impact of Method, Motivation, and Empathy on Diversity Training Effectiveness. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(3), 605-617.