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Are Diversity Programs Doomed to Fail?

June 27, 2016 2:58 pm

melting potFailure can be inevitable, a new study finds, when companies focus on out-dated diversity training and not on mentoring, college recruitment, and diversity councils.

By Eve Tahmincioglu

New research sets out to understand why diversity efforts often fail.

The overall conclusion is that many organizations aren’t innovative in their approach, according to an article in Harvard Business Review, coauthored by professors of sociology Frank Dobbin of Harvard and Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University.

The article states:

Most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity. Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s — which often make things worse, not better. 

But there are employers that get it, the researchers found.

A number of companies have gotten consistently positive results with tactics that don’t focus on control. They apply three basic principles: engage managers in solving the problem, expose them to people from different groups, and encourage social accountability for change.

And some of the key programs these companies undertake do get such results, include:

  • targeted college recruitment
  • mentoring programs
  • diversity councils

“If you look at the numbers across many years, these are the things that move the needle when it comes to diversity,” said Harvard’s Dobbin in an interview with DiversityInc.

Many of these best practices aren’t anything new to DiversityInc’s 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity. The Top 50 survey tracks human capital outcomes and connects them with best practices utilized to promote the advancement of underrepresented groups in the workplace — everything from mentoring, to recruitment, to diversity councils.

Essential to creating a diverse workplace, maintained Dobbin, is “bringing leadership into regular contact with members of groups they don’t always necessarily see.”

The best way to do that, he advised, is with strong mentoring initiatives. “A mentoring program is open to everyone, and we know women and minorities are often the first to want to do that.”

The statistics from Dobbin’s article tell the story of how mentoring can boost diversity in leadership:

  • On average they boost the representation of Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men, by 9 percent to 24 percent.
  • In industries where plenty of college-educated non-managers are eligible to move up, like chemicals and electronics, mentoring programs also increase the ranks of white women and Black men by 10 percent or more.

“If you can’t do other things,” he stressed, do mentoring.

Related resources:

Mentoring Fundamentals