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Business & Economy

Forced diversity in the workplace isn’t working, study says

What happens when
What happens when "diversity" becomes a corporate buzzword?
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Diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity in the workplace — in fact, they might just be a liability to achieving that end. So says Frank Dobbin, a sociology professor at Harvard University, and Alexandra Kalev, an associate professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University, in an in-depth article published in this month’s Harvard Business Review. 

The most popular programs — mandatory trainings sold to companies by outside consultants — are backfiring, making the attendees feel resentful towards the very people they are being asked to embrace, according to the study.

The study analyzed 30 years of data from more than 800 U.S. firms, interviewing hundreds of line managers and executives and determining that by not strong-arming managers to increase diversity in their workforces, results are better.

Kalev said that to ramp up numbers of women, blacks, Asians, Latinos and other minorities, the most effective methods are “inexpensive, in-house solutions.”

“To really increase diversity, you need to engage managers ... and increase their on-the-job contact with ... underrepresented workers,” Kalev said. “You do this with programs such as diversity task forces, mentoring programs, and targeted recruitment efforts … and by giving managers opportunities to simply work — collaborate — side-by-side with women and minorities as peers.”

Ideas about diversity in the workplace often differ on generational and geographical grounds, Kalev said. Experiences of integrated education can be central to reducing biases in the workplace.

Wade, an AirTalk listener who works as a pastor of two churches in the Inland Empire — one predominantly black, the other predominantly white — called in and said that he’s observed this firsthand while attempting to combine his congregations.

“The millennials ask the question, ‘Why not,’ and those who are baby boomers and above are asking, ‘Why should we?’”


Alexandra Kalev, associate professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University 

This story has been updated.