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The Role of Diversity Training

A Meta-Analytical Integration of Over 40 Years of Research on Diversity Training Evaluation
Authors
K. Bezrukova, C. S. Spell, J. L. Perry, & K. A. Jehn
Publication
Psychological Bulletin (2016)

In order to take stock of a large amount of research, often a meta-analysis is performed. This is a powerful way of systematically combining and interpreting a vast body of previously published articles to provide common themes and conclusions. In this paper, the researchers used a meta-analysis to understand how diversity training influenced different training outcomes.  They classified training outcomes into three areas: cognitive; this is about the knowledge acquired, for example about cultural diversity issues; behavioural, which concerns skill development; and attitudes, which considers any change in attitudes of diversity and self-efficacy (beliefs in their capacity to perform).

Their extensive analysis shows that diversity training has a large impact on cognitive learning and reactions to the training itself, with smaller but still significant impacts on behavioural and attitudinal learning. They also show that over time, the effects of diversity training on reactions and attitudes decrease, but remain stable or even increase for cognitive learning. Additionally, they show that while some training programmes do indeed fail, there are certainly many that succeed. 

Where training programmes are successful, they are often complimented by other diversity initiatives and administered over a period of time. Moreover, successful programmes tend to focus on awareness as well as skill development and have a higher proportion of women in the training groups than programmes which are unsuccessful.

The authors of this paper go on to suggest that the effect of diversity may not affect attitudes in the long term as initial responses to minority ethnic groups, for example, may adjust as a result of training, but then may shift back closer to their original attitude as a response to a range of negative stimuli which may have shaped their attitude originally; for example, negative media representation of African Americans in relation to the Ferguson unrest in the US. However, the authors suggest that the effects on cognitive learning maintain, or increase over time because of workplace, media or other ‘cues’ which can reinforce the responses trainees learn. 

In terms of the training features, they show that previously held beliefs about specific features, such as multiple training methods, are not effective. However, many programmes do not include features which are consistently effective, such as integrated training. 

Identifying best practices, they suggest that the setting of training is less important, but that training programmes should be integrated alongside other training initiatives. This may show trainees that management are committed to diversity beyond a standalone training session. Importantly, the different components of an integrated training programme will complement each other, enhancing the effects of the training. They give the example that a social networking group of minority professionals, supported by the organisation is an outcome of diversity training, and also acts as a mentoring source. 

Looking at training attendance, mandatory attendance is more effective with behavioural learning than voluntary, although voluntary attendance is preferred by trainees. Presumably, those who will attend diversity training voluntarily tend to have a more positive, open approach to diversity than those who refuse training, and are less likely to hold negative attitudes e.g. ‘this is all politically correct propaganda’.  This would also explain for why mandatory training is usually more effective, as it targets those who would benefit the most. 

When looking at the training design, there were no real differences with respect to the focus of the training, i.e. whether the training was inclusive, in a single group, or in multiple groups, or focusing on one or more minority groups, or being more generic. What they did find to be consistently effective was the length of the training. The longer the programme, the more effective it was. Additionally, programmes that tended to focus on both diversity awareness and skills were more effective than those which focused on each separately.  Finally, they noted that training programmes with a higher percentage of women trainees were reported more favourably (by the trainees). They suggest that women are more likely to be receptive to diversity training. 

Practical Takeaways

  • Diversity training has a large impact on cognitive learning and reactions to the training itself, with smaller but still significant impacts on behavioural and attitudinal learning.
  • Over time, the effects of diversity training on reactions and attitudes decrease, but remain stable or even increase for cognitive learning.
  • Successful training programmes: 
    • Are complimented by other diversity initiatives and administered over a period of time. 
    • Focus on awareness as well as skill development
    • Are integrated alongside other training initiatives
    • Have Mandatory attendance

References

Bezrukova, K., Spell, C. S., Perry, J. L., & Jehn, K. A. (2016). A meta-analytical integration of over 40 years of research on diversity training evaluation.
Psychological Bulletin, 142, 1227-1274.

Further Reading

King, E. B., Dawson, J. F., Kravitz, D. A., & Gulick, L. (2012). A multilevel study of the relationships between diversity training, ethnic discrimination and satisfaction in organizations.
Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(1), 5-20.

Kalinoski, Z. T., Steele‐Johnson, D., Peyton, E. J., Leas, K. A., Steinke, J., & Bowling, N. A. (2013). A meta-analytic evaluation of diversity training outcomes.
Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34(8), 1076-1104.

Homan, A. C., Buengeler, C., Eckhoff, R. A., van Ginkel, W. P., & Voelpel, S. C. (2015). The interplay of diversity training and diversity beliefs on team creativity in nationality diverse teams.
Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(5), 1456-1467.

King, E. B., Gulick, L. M., & Avery, D. R. (2010). The divide between diversity training and diversity education: Integrating best practices.
Journal of Management Education, 34(6), 891-906.

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