note: A list of news items on diversity
training appears in the column to the right. Drawn from many
sources, they provide current examples of issues spawned
by diversity training sessions.
The diversity training examples in my article
below are drawn mainly from the early and mid 90's. Although somewhat
dated, they still reflect some of the key issues involved when someone attempts to teach diversity as a subject matter.
McAllister, Revised May 17, 2012
Training encounters of the controversial kind
November 21, 1996
The University of Houston
College of Technology
paper was written by Grady
McAllister. It was completed as a research project
for a class in Occupational Technology at the University
of Houston. The ideas expressed do not represent the views
of the University of Houston or the College of Technology.
1996 by Grady McAllister. All Rights Reserved.
FACE OF AMERICA
year is 2042.
is a year within the lifetime of many who are now living.
is the widely accepted date when whites will become a minority
in the United States.
Maharidge, author of The Coming White Minority, writes that "whites
who have always accepted the idea that the US is a white
country are going to have to accept the fact that it will
no longer be so and that once it changes it's never going
to be so again."” Maharidge, who describes himself
as a "pragmatic white liberal," hopes that the
country will be "richer and more vital" as a result.
he predicts that the first 50 or 100 years of a white minority
America will be "absolutely wrenching--perhaps the most
tumultuous period in our country's history."
whites will not readily accept the change. According to
Maharidge, "This will not be something whites will
grasp very easily. It's destined to feel like a loss of
whites will start to feel like a minority long before the
2042 date. For one thing, the states of Texas, California,
and Florida are absorbing 50 per cent of the nonwhite immigrants
and their offspring. California, for example, will be mostly
nonwhite by end of this decade. For the nation as a whole,
the younger half of the population will be mostly nonwhite
long before 2042.
FACE OF WORK
for the workplace are massive. As far back as 1987, the Hudson
Institute predicted that white males would constitute only
15 per cent of new workers by the new millennium. The remaining
slots are going to white women and to minorities.
has fueled the increasing role of minorities: Legal immigrants
have been exceeding the records set at the start of the
Twentieth Century. Most of them are non-whites who bring
a variety of cultures with them.
with the change, most large organizations are boosting programs
in "cultural diversity." Diversity trainer S.
Kanu Kogod, says these programs are necessary because the
latest newcomers differ from earlier immigrants. Those who
arrived in earlier immigrant waves sought to assimilate
and enter the American mainstream; the newer immigrants
"tend to hold onto their own languages and customs
and try to maintain their distinct places within the overall
to immigrant groups, the term "diversity" encompasses
differences due to race, ethnicity, age, gender, education,
cultural background, and physical ability. Often, lesbians
and homosexuals enter the mix. These programs enjoy the
imprimatur of the highest corporate officers.
diversity training has generated complaints. Like affirmative
action, it is holy writ for human resource professionals,
but controversial for the public. The report that follows
looks at diversity programs and some of the issues that
Kogod notes that a diverse workforce has lead to "conflicting
messages about how to do things." According to Kogod,
diversity requires a form of value relativism. She promotes
a move away from "ethnocentrism" and toward "cultural
relativism, the attempt to understand another's beliefs
and behaviors in terms of the person's culture." She
continues: "The person who responds to interactions
with cultural relativism rather than ethnocentrism is able
to see alternatives and to negotiate with another person
on the basis of cultural differences."
theoretically, Kogod offers these tips to managers:
that cultural differences exist.
- Acknowledge your own stereotypes and assumptions.
- Develop consciousness and acceptance of your own cultural
background and style.
- Be flexible; try to adapt to the style of the person with
whom you are communicating.
- Provide employees who are different with what they need
- Treat people equitably but not uniformly.
- Encourage constructive communication about differences.
believes that these guidelines will create a climate in
which "any communication--whether between employees
or between an employee and a customer--is a multicultural
a group billing itself as the "Diversity Continuous Quality
Improvement Team for a Strategic Conversation" issued
a report to the Governing Board of the Maricopa Community
College District in Arizona. Their definition was less than
as it is understood in the workplace today, implies differences
in people based on their identifications with various groups.
But it is more. Diversity is a process of acknowledging
differences through action. In organizations, this involves
welcoming heterogeneity by developing a variety of initiatives
at the management and organizational levels as well as at
the interpersonal levels. Sometimes called the platinum
rule, valuing diversity involves treating others as they
wish to be treated.
goal (of diversity in the workplace) is to create a culture
in which every employee -- regardless of gender, race,
ethnic background, or sexual orientation -- has the opportunity
to flourish, based on performance…
can learn to harness aspects of uniqueness. Leaders can
value differences as a source of strength and creativity
for the organization. Results demonstrate that utilizing
people's uniqueness enhances communication, problem-solving,
and decision-making skills, thereby improving organizational
productivity and performance.
MS BACH GOES TO
frequently ask their participants to engage in a role-playing
exercise. One widely used "structured experience"
offers these training goals:
brings out reactions to an incident in an imaginary country
called Zenoland. The country experiences an earthquake, and
relief workers from North America are in Zenoland to assist.
- To encourage participants to consider the impact of cultural
diversity on interactions among people.
foster the participants' awareness of and sensitivity
to cultural attitudes and behavior that are different
from our own.
provide an opportunity for participants to practice communicating
and problem-solving in a culturally diverse setting.
Zenoland is trying to help its economy by promoting tourism.
Most of the effort centers on Isol, a Zenoland province
on the Green Sea.
most of Zenoland, the people of Isol live by strict religious
rules. Women's activities are segregated. Women who enter
the Green Sea must be fully clothed and be accompanied by
develops that involves Ms Bach, a Canadian relief worker.
Bach appears at the Green Sea alone and goes for a swim
in a revealing two-piece bathing suit. Her independent activities
offend nearby fundamentalist fishermen.
the men shout and throw rocks at her. She flees into the
water. They follow her and strike her with their fists.
Bach nearly drowns before being rescued by tourists.
president of Zenoland convenes a meeting to address the
ensuing crisis. The training participants assume the roles
of minister of the interior, province chief of Isol, the
vice president of a company that wants to build a resort
in Isol, an international news correspondent, and the leader
of the international aid team.
program looks at boss-subordinate communications problems
and adds the element of diversity. According to consultants
Jack Mendelson and Diane Mendelson, “Difficult communications
situations between a manager and an employee are frequently
caused, in part, by demographic differences between two
people.” The consultants prescribe their DIFCOM (Difficult
Communications) process for situations when a manager “must
communicate a message that he or she believes the other
person will not like.”
offer an example of the process in HR Magazine:
the sales manager is 28 years old and from a minority group.
She is engaged and has no children. Curt, a sales representative
who reports to Jane, is 48 years old, Caucasian and has
been married for 26 years. He has two teenage daughters.
wants Curt to do a better job handling customer requests.
She prepares to communicate her desires.
has had “extensive experience with Caucasian authority
figures and managers who are much older and fairly extensive
experience with male subordinates.” However, she has
had very little experience with subordinates who are white,
male, and older.
mulls over Curt’s demographics. How, she wonders,
might a person who is white, male, older, and subordinate
react during the meeting? Writers Mendelson and Mendelson
make us privy to her thoughts:
speculated briefly that Curt might have difficulties with
her race, gender or young age--and perhaps, all three…
point on, the process resembles traditional management training.
Jane follows these DIFCOM steps:
worked her way through her own biases about people like
Curt. When she began her preliminary work and thought
about him, two assumptions came to mind: "You can't teach
an old dog new tricks" and "Curt is over the hill."
caught herself stereotyping Curt and "talked to herself"
for a few minutes about his age. "Even though he is old
enough to be my father," she thought, "he also keeps himself
in good physical shape, shows no signs of slowing down,
and is nearly 20 years away from retirement."
decided she would focus on Curt's potential and his other
good points as well as his immediate problems with customer
requests. After all, his sales performance had been quite
satisfactory over the years. He had trained several new
sales people rather well.
two agree to meet in a Thai restaurant. Curt seems to
look toward the meeting with fear and loathing. However,
Jane sees Curt "brighten up" when she offers
to take him in her new sports car.
rapport with the employee and participate in rituals.
2. Discuss and define the problem or opportunity.
3. Ask for behavior change.
4. Discuss individual benefits of that change.
5. Prepare an action plan jointly.
and Curt mutually agree to resolve the customer complaints.
leave the restaurant, Curt says he has just one more question.
Jane stops walking and gives him "her undivided attention,"
as we reach the conclusion of the scenario. Curt tells her
what is on his mind:
could I drive your car back to the office?" As she laughed,
she suddenly realized what was so familiar about "this
old white guy." Curt's personality and sense of humor
reminded her of her favorite uncle. "Interesting, she
thought--Curt certainly doesn't look anything like Uncle
Mike!" Jane flashed Curt a big smile and tossed him the
OTHER TRAINING AIMED
diversity training goes under the banner of “diversity.”
Many trainers include diversity appeals in programs aimed
at other soft-skill areas. Examples include “team-building,”
“change management,” and “sensitivity training.”
(English as a second language) programs deal with one of
the results of diversity.
ENGLISH AS A
in Training magazine, Faith Hayflich and Anne E.
Lomperis state that immigration has brought American companies
to the point where they must “address limitations
in communications skills to retain valued employees, meet
safety standards, and compete in the national and international
report the experience of a South Florida hotel chain where
guests complained “The telephone operators don't even
speak English here.” The language barrier has resulted
in guests receiving suntan lotion instead of the shampoo
training is time-consuming and expensive, but Hayflich and
Lomperis believe that it is “an investment that pays
off. It reduces lost time, costly errors, customer complaints,”
and other factors that damage competitiveness and reduce
profits. The key is to: (1) Consider which of the organization's
goals are not being met because of a language problem, (2)
Analyze the tasks being done, (3) Consider the language
skill each task involves.
to Hayflich and Lomperis, the amount of ESL training should
be geared to the importance of the tasks and the “importance”
of the individual to the organization: “A manufacturing
worker or service employee who has few literacy skills and
little knowledge of spoken English could require several
years to become fluent in the language----an endeavor few
companies have the resources to undertake.” Yet, a
Silicon Valley vice president might rate private tutoring
to reduce “grammar and pronunciation errors to almost
management training often travels the same path as diversity
training. After all, diversity is one big example of change
logic of change management training revolves around three
Change is taking place all the time.
(2) Change is taking place faster now than in the past.
(3) You had better get used to lots of change.
of the training also implies a cultural and political agenda.
example, let’s meet cultural anthropologist Jennifer
James. Dr. James is a self-styled change management expert
and futurist. She is also a Seattle-based liberal newspaper
video, Survival Skills for the Future, she presents
her ideas on how to cope with change. One of our problems,
she says, is that “myths in the culture” perpetuate
old perspectives. She offers some perspectives of her own
on these well-known myths:
Lone Ranger: "Not a team player . . .Imagine the Lone Ranger
running your company." He's pretentious with his white horse
and silver bullets. He doesn't communicate well-- especially
about his background.
and the Beast: "The basic message is you can marry one of
those guys and clean him up."
White: "No assertiveness training. . . always relying on
looking in the mirror." Moves in with seven dwarves who
have "disturbing personal habits."
of this sounds politically correct, that is James' intention.
She tells her video viewers:
are uncomfortable with politically correct behavior. They
don't realize that it just means learning to speak in ways
that enable us to work together.
"Be able to handle diversity," otherwise, "you'll be obsolete.
You won't know what is going on."
her celebration of diversity does not extend to nonconformist
types like the Lone Ranger or the Seven Dwarves.
James seems to be talking down to her viewers. Rather than
new knowledge or skills, her purpose is to effect an attitude
skill trainers often state--or imply--ideas that are not
universally accepted. At other times, the training methods
may jolt and intimidate people. Training can go too far
in a crusade to erect togetherness. For example, there is
the strange case of the New Age ghost and the FAA . . .
sect, which mended matters with a jargon about "the
Centre of Truth": holding that Man got out of the
Centre of Truth which did not need much demonstration
but had not got out of the Circumference,
and was even to be shoved back into the Centre,
by fasting and seeing of spirits. Accordingly, much
discoursing with spirits went on which did
a great deal of good which never became manifest."
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859
1994 and 1995, a pair of training scandals emerged at the
Federal Aviation Agency that caused many people to take
a hard look all training aimed at increasing "sensitivity."
that since 1984 the FAA "stress management" training had
been led by New Age cult member Gregory May. A Department
of Transportation investigation includes a transcript of
a purported conversation between May and the ghost of "Ramtha."
According to J.S. Knight, the cult's priestess, Ramtha is
a 35,000-year-old warrior who lived on the Lost Continent
New Age proclivities make an interesting story, but were
not his main foibles. There was also the matter of how FAA
officials granted May $1.4 million in contracts without
open bids. But it was May's training methods that generated
an outcry from the media and Congress.
sessions required a woman to share a bed with her male boss,
two men to visit the toilet tied together, and three women
to take a shower together. Participants were reportedly
deprived of sleep and verbally assaulted. All this was supposed
to make managers more sensitive to other employees.
stated he has "trained" as many as 4,000 FAA officials.
Asked for comment, FAA Deputy Administrator Linda Hall Daschle
said (with unintended irony) "Don't haunt us with the past.
We're trying to move forward."
In a separate
FAA program, black employees were urged to discuss the problems
of living in a "white, male dominated society" and verbally
castigate individual white males. Also, the alleged WM dominators
were obliged to run a gauntlet in which they were aggressively
fondled by females.
Louisa Eberhardt, the consultant who designed the program,
explained: "What it was--is one minute of men experiencing
what women in a male-dominated organization experience,
about the FAA imbroglio, Fortune columnist Daniel Seligman
concludes: "Sensitivity training is coercive at its worst
. . . but its benefits are hard to trace even when the training
involves nothing more than cheer leading for workplace diversity."
Seligman expresses the sentiments of many when he writes:
problem with diversity is that people really are diverse--so
much so that they don’t necessarily want to be told
to embrace the views and living arrangements of others who
training community, of course, sees things differently.
An article in the Training & Development Journal last September describes how a new FAA program "increases
awareness of personal stereotypes and prejudices" and
"knowledge of sexual harassment in the workplace."
The claim of success is based on nothing more than self-assessments
at the end of the seminar.
THUMBS UP OR
THUMBS DOWN OR ELSE
tactics are not limited to the government bureaucracy. Carolyn
Nilson, a consultant for AT&T, Chevron, and Nabisco, has
created the following team building exercise:
must sit in a circle and show an immediate "thumbs up" or
"thumbs down" while the team leader fires off a quick series
of statements. They cover such hot topics as affirmative
action, marrying someone of a different race or religion,
and AIDS in the workplace.
to Nilson, the statements are designed to pull an immediate
"gut" response. She ominously advises team leaders to "waste
no time in seeking help from a diversity consultant, corporate
attorney, or other human resources facilitator if your team's
responses indicate confusion or bias."
If you have come to this page, it is likely you are interested
in making the world a better place. Are you a social change
activist, trainer, or teacher and interested in becoming
a more effective fighter against racism, sexism, homophobia,
ethnocentrism, religious bigotry, xenophobia, sizes, disablism,
nationalism, internalized, institutionalized, [sic] and
all other forms of prejudice? Then join me in a seminar
where we can learn together.
-- Ad on World Wide Web
is no doubt about it: Diversity training has become one
of the most controversial forms of training ever created.
diversity consultants Ann Perkins Delatte and Larry Baytos
the sensitive or even volatile nature of issues sometimes
(racism, sexism, homophobia) there is the potential
for a program to "blow up." It isn't all that
rare to have an irate participant stomp out of the room
after taking offense at the meeting dialogue. The news of
such an episode spreads quickly to future attendees
diversity trainers Michael Mobley and Tamara Payne wrote
about a "backlash" that was developing against
diversity programs. According to them, the training itself
can cause a backlash when any of the following occurs:Trainers
have political agendas or support particular interest groups.
- Training is presented as remedial and trainees as people
- Training uses a limited definition of whose differences
should be valued.
- Training is based on a philosophy of political correctness.
- Training forces people to reveal their feelings about
their coworkers or to do exercises that don't respect
people's dignity or differences.
- Training pressures only one group to change.
- The discussion of certain issues such as reverse discrimination
is not allowed.
- Trainers don't model the philosophy or skills associated
with valuing diversity.
recently in Training magazine, Steven Paskoff concludes
that many programs are "a waste of valuable time"
that "actually exacerbate the very problems they are
meant to address." He cites several "fatal weaknesses"
found in the typical diversity program:
too much of managers: A manager learns, for example, that
different cultures have different "rules" about
physical touching. If he takes the training seriously
he may "expose his company to a sexual harassment
of tangible standards. Paskoff asks, "Is the manager
expected to make possibly illegal inquires about employees'
ethnic and cultural backgrounds before deciding on the
proper mix of bluntness and circumspection?"
wrong tool. The typical program concentrates on "feelings"
rather than preventing illegal behavior. Paskoff describes
one company where so many honest "feelings"
were expressed that the meeting left participants "alienated,
angry, and guilt-plagued." Hardly anyone attended
later sessions. Two trainers quit the company, and one
of them "subsequently filed her own sexual harassment
to promote conflict resolution: "The premise is that
by exploring differences one learns to 'understand' the
party who is 'different.' " However, the reality
is that this merely conditions people to "dwell on
to recognize that individuals are different. Diversity
programs tend to acknowledge individual differences but
end up "urging that a single characteristic
a determining role" in how a person is treated.
of stereotyping: "Overtly or covertly, by focusing
on group differences, many diversity training programs
communicate that certain cultural, racial, or sexual stereotypes--the
ones taught in diversity programs--have validity."
For example, a male manager may "learn" in a
diversity program that women use "a more tactful
style of communication" than men. From that piece
of information he may conclude that women are not "tough
enough" for business.
legal risk. Remarks made during one diversity workshop
served as evidence in a $100 million sex-discrimination
lawsuit against Lucky Stores in California. In another
case a jury awarded $1 million to each of two people as
a result of "racially charged" statements that
arose during US West training sessions. According to Paskoff,
these are some of the possible outcomes "when diversity
training's vaunted 'exchange of painfully honest feelings
in a safe environment' gets out of hand."
training can also encourage an appearance of unequal treatment.
For example, a manager may "learn" that Asians
consider direct criticism bad manners. He then treats
Asians with more patience than some other group. The other
group cries "discrimination!"
recommends a more direct approach to diversity, one that
focuses on results, rather than attitudes, beliefs, or feelings:
Communicate a commitment to fair treatment.
2. Focus on what people have in common.
3. Identify unacceptable conduct and prohibit it.
4. Teach civil rules of behavior.
5. Use one course, not many
6. Define the issue as one of business risk management.
companies that fail to manage diversity, the risk can be
very high indeed. As this paper neared completion, Texaco
had just settled a two-year-old discrimination suit. The
agreement will pay an average of $82,000 apiece to current
and former African-American workers.
sudden settlement was precipitated by a recording of Texaco
executives that seemed to reveal a bias against blacks.
part of the dialog that added to the uproar was the term
"black jelly beans." Ironically, that metaphor
was coined by diversity trainer Roosevelt Thomas--himself
an African-American. So, Texaco did have some diversity
training; it will soon have some more.
of its coverage of the Texaco case, ABC-TV took World News
Tonight viewers inside some diversity sessions. One actuality
showed a black female ranting and raving about living in
a society dominated by white males. Another clip showed
a black male, on the verge of tears, who confesses
been a bigot toward gays and lesbians. I thought that
Asians were dirty. I have so many prejudices within me
too, and--for those I have offended--I am sorry.
sidebar to its Texaco coverage, Newsweek notes that
"blame and shame" sessions abound in much diversity
training: "They operate on the no-pain no-gain theory
that multicultural harmony will emerge only after a period
of discomfort." The article quotes Harris Sussman,
a Cambridge diversity consultant: "In the name of diversity
these seminars have turned people against each other."
The Newsweek article comments:
training techniques and unskilled "consultants"
have proliferated; anyone can, and does, hang out a diversity-training
article endorses Steven Paskoff's straightforward approach
to diversity and concludes with this observation: "Diversity
is a fact of life whether corporations like it or not. Managing
it, however, seems to require more than just a few dubious
A list of current news items on diversity and diversity
training appears in the column to the right. You can mark
this page in your browser to keep abreast of current diversity
Vasthead is the professional web site of
Grady McAllister of Houston, Texas.
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Dream? Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel. 101. Based on
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(1996, October 28). Unlearning prejudice & celebrating
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writing article was available at www.hooked.net.
Perkins & Baytos , Larry . (1993, January). Guidelines
for successful diversity training. Training . 55-60.
Quality Improvement Team for a Strategic Conversation. (1995).
Diversity defined. Available www.emc.maricopa.edu/diversity/defined.html.
Maricopa Community College District, Arizona.
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& Lomperis, Anne E. (1992, August). Why don’t
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plan to improve difficult communication. HR Magazine.
& Payne, Tamara. (1992, December). Backlash: The challenge
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