Training Cats & Dogs to Work Together

Topic(s): diversity

Topic: Diversity
Publication: Academy of Management
Article: The influence of training focus and trainer characteristics on diversity training effectiveness.
Blogger: LitDigger

More and more organizations today are recognizing the value of having a diverse workforce, which means that many are throwing down the big bucks to support diversity initiatives.

One of the popular actions behind such initiatives is diversity training. Yes, you’ve heard of it, but it can mean many things. Diversity training can vary in aspects such as training content, framing, and trainer style – and it doesn’t take a genius to know that training sessions can differ in effectiveness.

Diversity practitioners out there might be interested to know about a recent study done by Holladay and Quinones. This study looked at how training focus (i.e., emphasizing similarities versus differences between people) and a trainer’s personal characteristics (i.e., race and gender) can work together to predict diversity training effectiveness.

Some of you might be anxious right now because you want to know how to make diversity training effective, and others of you might be asking the question: “Hold on, hold on . . . how did they measure training effectiveness?”

Let’s start with the second group of people (otherwise you measurement types might get overly skeptical while reading through the results). Rest easy, they used lots of different criteria to measure effectiveness: they examined trainee reactions and learning outcomes (i.e., seeing if trainees believed that they were capable of performing the new skills, if trainees could boost their declarative knowledge, and if trainees could develop their skills as measured by situational judgment tests). No, the experimental design didn’t get as far as measuring training transfer over time, but they did cover many bases nonetheless!

Let’s get to the results already.  Dig in below:

·      Diversity training focusing on similarities between people was more predictive of trainees selecting better conflict resolution strategies afterwards than diversity training focusing on differences between people.

·      Diversity training focusing on similarities also was better than the training focusing on differences in that trainees expected less backlash (meaning that they were less likely to expect the training to not work due to the majority group feeling threatened once they went back to work).

·      When the training focused on similarities, the trainer’s race and sex did not impact training effectiveness . . . . BUT when the training focused on differences, trainees reacted least favorably to the white male trainers. Ouch! (But really, come on, it’s like he’s asking for it.)

·      The focus of the training didn’t necessarily directly predict whether or not trainees believed they were capable of performing the skills learned . . . this relationship instead depended on the level of backlash expected by the trainees. Interesting stuff, huh?

I think so. These findings reveal the importance of considering the content of the diversity training in light of the demographics of the trainer leading the session, and also suggest that it would be useful to find ways to avoid having trainees perceive potential backlash from the diversity training they’re taking. We would hope that money spent on diversity training isn’t wasted, right?

Holladay, C.L., Quinones, M.A. (2008). The influence of training focus and trainer characteristics on diversity training effectiveness.  Academy of Management Learning & Education, 7(3) 343-354.