Several bloggers have recently drawn attention to an article on the ineffectiveness of “diversity training” in Psychology Today, among them Walter Olson at “Overlawyered” and Hans Bader at OpenMarket.org. The article, by Peter Bregman, recounts the author’s own fruitless experiences in running diversity training and cites “… a study of 829 companies over 31 years [that] showed that diversity training had ‘no positive effects in the workplace.’” In fact, mandatory diversity training often appears to have negative effects, and to increase expressions of prejudice.
Bregman attributes the negative effects to more than resentment against the mandate. He argues that emphasizing thinking of people in categories actually divides them. I think he may underestimate the role of sheer anger at being forced to undergo these types of sessions. From experience, I’m also pretty sure that one of the reasons diversity training sessions lead to more accusations of prejudice and more lawsuits is that these encourage people to interpret statements as prejudicial and intensify feelings of victimization and perceptions of discrimination. But I also think there is a more fundamental reason to oppose re-education programs than mere ineffectiveness or even unintended consequences.
While employers do have the right to set workplace rules, including rules regarding the interactions of their employees, we cannot have a free society when corporate organizations, whether governmental or private, attempt to dictate how and what individuals are permitted to think. If efforts at thought control were successful, that would hardly be a justification of them.