A critical examination of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training programs suggests they often make racism in the workplace worse, according to a report by David Haskell, an associate professor of digital media and journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University.
In “What DEI research concludes about diversity training: It is divisive, counter-productive and unnecessary” — written for the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy — Haskell argues DEI training, widely used by corporations, educational institutions and government agencies, is doing more harm than good when it comes to countering racism.
DEI was thrown into the public spotlight last summer when Toronto school principal Richard Bilkszto, who is white, took his own life, with his family alleging this was due to bullying and harassment he was subjected to by a DEI instructor during training sessions contracted for by the Toronto District School Board.
The allegations have not been tested in court, the company that delivered the training says they are false, and the reasons anyone takes their own life are complex.
But Haskell writes that criticisms about the effectiveness of DEI have been raised in numerous academic studies by multiple researchers over many years, long before the Bilkszto case.
“A growing number of high-profile cases suggest that diversity workshops and their supporting materials regularly promote questionable claims — particularly about the overarching, malicious character of the majority (white) population” Haskell writes.
“Similarly, hostility toward those who challenge DEI claims is part of the pattern.
“In Canada, students who challenge claims have been punished or expelled, employees have been suspended. One whistleblower who leaked DEI training session material maligning the majority population lost his employment.
“Operating under the assumption that society is overrun with intolerance, the expressed goal in DEI workshops is to generate harmony amongst diverse populations.
“To that end, independent consultants or in-house DEI staff lead participants through a curriculum focusing on such concepts as implicit bias, white privilege and micro-aggressions.”
Haskell says one standard method for measuring the success of DEI comes from comparing surveys of participants done before and after the training, which show that post-training, participants are more likely to provide answers consistent with pro-DEI ideas.
But Haskell notes such surveys are prone to publication bias, fail to factor in that attendance is often mandatory, that giving the “right” answers may be linked to job security and career advancement, and that reciting talking points from DEI training is not proof of a fundamental or long-term shift in underlying attitudes on issues such as racism.
Equally concerning, Haskell writes, is that according to both national and international academic studies, DEI training often provokes new prejudices in participants that did not exist prior to their training.
“DEI instruction has been shown to increase prejudice and activate bigotry among participants by bringing existing stereotypes to the top of their minds, or by implanting new biases they had not previously held …
“Simply put, numerous studies show that when DEI-type workshop leaders instruct participants to suppress their biases — be they existing or newly implanted — many will cling to them more tightly and mentally generate additional justifications for their presence.”
Lecturing participants about white privilege often backfires, Haskell says.
That is, it doesn’t make them more compassionate toward economically disadvantaged members of minority groups, but instead reduces their sympathy for whites struggling with poverty, with an increased tendency to blame them for being poor.
Research has found even whites initially supportive of DEI training often emerge more skeptical about its proposed solutions for racism, as well as less engaged and more guarded in group discussions about the issue.
Another alarming feature of DEI, Haskell says, is that it increasingly targets those of Asian ethnicity, because they tend to score higher on metrics such as education, career achievement and income, compared to the general population, including whites.
“Some DEI proponents have begun to refer to Asians as ‘white adjacent’ (or near white) and have accused them of perpetuating ‘white supremacy,’” Haskell reports.
This has led to the resurrection of racist admission quotas at some U.S. universities, Haskell says, in which Asians must achieve near-perfect marks in order to qualify for admission, compared to other minority groups.
In other words, the ostensible purpose of DEI, which is to eliminate prejudice against minorities, has now been reinvented — some would argue corrupted — into promoting only the “right” minorities in the view of DEI instructors.
The overall verdict on DEI, Haskell says, is that any positive effects are typically minimal, temporary or both, and far from decreasing racist attitudes in the workplace, often makes them worse.