Backlash: What Research Tells Us About Why DEI Often Fails

ViewHR Team
October 07, 2021

Analyzing three decades’ worth of data and interviewing hundreds of business executives and managers, sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev identified some key aspects of diversity programs that make them ineffective or, worse, counterproductive.

  1. Many programs are mandatory. 

    “[F]ive years after instituting required training for managers, companies saw no improvement in the proportion of white women, black men, and Hispanics in management, and the share of black women actually decreased by 9%, on average, while the ranks of Asian-American men and women shrank by 4% to 5%. Trainers tell us that people often respond to compulsory courses with anger and resistance—and many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterward.”
  2. Many programs emphasize negativity.

    “One reason is that three-quarters use negative messages in their training. By headlining the legal case for diversity and trotting out stories of huge settlements, they issue an implied threat: ‘Discriminate, and the company will pay the price.’ We understand the temptation—that’s how we got your attention in the first paragraph—but threats, or ‘negative incentives,’ don’t win converts.”
  3. Many programs’ messages are easily forgotten.

    “It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash.”
  4. Many programs are remedial.

    “Companies too often signal that training is remedial…. Most companies with training have special programs for managers. To be sure, they’re a high-risk group because they make the hiring, promotion, and pay decisions. But singling them out implies that they’re the worst culprits. Managers tend to resent that implication and resist the message.”

ViewHR was built with these lessons in mind. Unlike other DEI programs, ViewHR created training modules and lesson plans that draw upon evidence from social science research. Using a constructive approach, ViewHR treats employees as individuals and promotes common humanity. By encouraging respect, charity, and by giving people the benefit of doubt, ViewHR can help your company build a healthy and sustainable workplace culture.

ViewHR’s goal is to promote fairer and happier workplaces through common sense training.