The ability to work well with people of all different backgrounds is critically important in today’s workforce. Many organizations utilize diversity training in order to help employees develop the skills needed to understand and appreciate the perspectives and experiences of others.
One key skill that diversity training and education targets is perspective taking. Perspective taking is the ability to consider alternative points of view. This skill has been found to increase understanding and appreciation of different experiences and views, which helps to foster more inclusive workplaces. Other benefits of perspective taking include increased recognition of racial inequalities and decreased stereotyping and discrimination.
MEASURING THE OUTCOMES OF DIVERSITY TRAINING
While many people assume that diversity training improves perspective-taking abilities, no previous research has actually tested this assumption. New research (Ragins & Ehrhardt, 2020) addresses this by examining whether participation in a diversity training course improves reported perspective-taking ability. This research also examines whether having close friends of another race impacts this relationship. The researchers tested these questions by surveying people enrolled in diversity courses in an educational setting as well as in an organizational setting.
The researchers found that diversity training led to an increase in participant perspective taking, but only for people who reported having close cross-race friendships. This finding is explained by participants’ “belief in a just world,” which refers to the belief that the world is a fair place and that people get what they deserve in life. Individuals with close cross-race friends were less likely to believe in a just world, and in turn were more likely to experience an increase in perspective taking following diversity training compared to people without close cross-race friends.
CHANGES IN ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS
In addition to measuring changes in reported perspective-taking ability, the researchers examined changes in attitudes and beliefs about perspective taking. Specifically, they found that participation in diversity training increased perceptions of the value of perspective taking, as well as the need to improve personal perspective-taking abilities. This finding did not depend on whether or not participants had close cross-race friends. This suggests that diversity training is beneficial for all people, not just those with close cross-race friends, because it helps people understand the value of perspective taking and their need to improve it.
After learning that diversity education led to increased perspective taking only for individuals with cross-race friendships, the researchers conducted another study in order to see if an exercise in perspective taking can increase the willingness to form cross-race friendships. The results of this study showed that engaging in a simple perspective-taking exercise leads people to experience greater empathic concern, which in turn leads to a greater willingness to form cross-race friendships and engage in “diversity voice,” which means offering constructive suggestions for improving workplace diversity.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This research confirms that diversity training can be a useful tool in the development of perspective taking and highlights the importance of cross-race friendships. While all participants in diversity education became more aware of the value of perspective taking and their own need to develop this skill, only those participants with close cross-race friendships experienced an increase in their reported perspective-taking abilities upon completion of the course. These findings held even after controlling for many other diversity-related attitudes, experiences, and beliefs (e.g., racial prejudice) and individual characteristics (e.g., race).
Together, this research suggests that organizations should continue to utilize diversity training. Furthermore, organizations should encourage the development of close cross-race friendships in order for everyone to benefit maximally from the diversity training. To that end, beyond simply increasing racial diversity, organizations should provide opportunities for social interaction that could help foster friendships. For example, organizations can develop diverse work teams and host social events. By encouraging close cross-race friendships and offering diversity training, organizations can help their employees increase their ability to understand diverse viewpoints, which may serve as an important first step to overcoming negative racial attitudes in the workplace and beyond.
Ragins, B. R., & Ehrhardt, K. (2020). Gaining perspective: The impact of close cross-race friendships on diversity training and education. Journal of Applied Psychology, advance online publication.