Recent surveys indicate that the majority of US companies currently have diversity training and have moved into the mainstream from the traditional role of merely equal employment opportunity complaint. A comprehensive research study found those firms that adopted diversity training tended to have the following profile:
- large size,
- positive top-management beliefs about diversity,
- high strategic priority of diversity relative to other competing objectives
- presence of a diversity manager and
- existence of a large number of other diversity supportive policies
There are two ways in which this training can play a key role in managing diversity. One way is by offering training to diverse groups. Members from a diverse group can be trained for an entry level skill or how to more effectively do their existing or future job. The other approach is to provide training to managers and other employees who work with diverse employees. In recent years a number of approaches have been used in providing such diversity training.
Most diversity training programs get the participants directly involved. One of CMD’s programs involves putting trainees into groups based on ethnic origin. Then each group is asked to describe the others and to listen to the way its own group is described. The purpose of this exercise is to gain insights into the way one ethnic group is perceived by another ethnic group. Each group is also asked to describe the difficulties it has in working with other ethnic groups and to identify the reasons for these problems. At the end of the training, both managers and employees relate that they have a better understanding of their personal biases and the ways in which they can improve their interaction with members of the other groups.
Another widely used approach is diversity board games, which require the participants to answer questions related to areas such as gender, race, cultural differences, age issues, sexual orientation and disabilities. On the basis of the response, the game players are able to advance on the board or are forced to back up. For example, in helping participants gain an understanding of the legal issues involved in employment practices, one game asks the players this question:
Two white workers and one African American worker were charged with theft of company property. The white employees were discharged but the African American employee was retained because of concerns about racial-discrimination lawsuits. The employer’s action was:
- Illegal. The Law prohibits racial discrimination
- Legal. The law protects only minorities
- Legal. This case involved theft.
The answer is “a” and participants who answer correctly are allowed to advance on the board or given some form of reward such as a token that counts towards a higher score. The objective of these types of games is to acquaint the players in a nonthreatening manner with legal rules and restrictions regarding how to manage members of diverse groups.
Other training games help participants focus on cultural issues such as how to interact with personnel from other cultures. Here is an example:
In Hispanic families, which one of the following values is probably most important?
- Being on time
- Respect for elders
The correct answer is ‘d’ As participants play the game, they gain an understanding of the values and beliefs of other cultures and learn how better to interact with a diverse workforce.
In many cases these diversity related games are used as supplements to other forms of training. For example, they are often employed as icebreakers to get diversity training sessions started or to maintain participant interest during a long program. Recent research has found that the major key to the success of diversity training is top management support for diversity; also important are mandatory attendance for all managers, long term evaluation of training results, managerial rewards for increasing diversity and a broad definition of diversity in the organization. However, it must be remembered that awareness training is valuable to shift perceptions, but may not lead to behavioural change. All state and other firms learned that the training must be linked to business outcomes in order to produce actual behavioural change.
A major problem of training in general and diversity training in particular, is the transfer problem. Those going through the diversity training may see the value and gain some relevant knowledge, but then do not transfer this training back to the job. A major reason for this transfer problem is a lack of confidence or self–efficacy (i.e. the trainees do not believe that they can successfully carry out the diversity training objectives back on the job in their specific environment). A recent field experiment by Combs and Luthans was designed to increase trainees’ diversity self-efficacy. The results were that the training intervention significantly increased the trainees (N=276 in 3 organizations) measured diversity self-efficacy. More importantly, there was a strong positive relationship between the trained participants diversity self-efficacy and the number and difficulty of their stated intentions for initiating diversity goals in their specific environments of insurance and manufacturing firms and a government agency.