I recently co-hosted a podcast with my friend Jennifer Richmond, in which we interviewed Professor Amna Khalid, an Associate Professor of History at Carleton College. Amna has written extensively about the failure of implicit bias training in organizational settings. I asked if she could design a diversity program that was different from the standard-fare Critical Race Theory Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, what would it look like?
Amna said she wouldn’t do training, she’d do education. Training suggests a defined skill set, an assortment of knowable ideas and information like Microsoft Excel, HR law, or workplace safety programmes, that can be imparted by a professional trainer.
Diversity, on the other hand, isn’t a defined set of skills even though it is often treated as one in today’s corporate environment. When you classify diversity as a skill to be trained for, you dumb it down into a single perspective. It becomes packaged into an ideology that claims to know exactly who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor, and how people should talk to each other and how they shouldn’t. Robin DiAngelo, the renowned diversity trainer and author, instructs white people not to cry in front of black people at her sessions, putting the workplace, the sponsor of such workshops, into the business of tear management. Please don’t forget to mark your calendars for next Tuesday’s advanced level training on “How not to cry in front of your coworkers”.
In all seriousness, diversity is a complex set of interlocking issues. It includes representation of traditionally marginalized communities; cognitive diversity—the various ways people think; and viewpoint diversity—the various political and ideological perspectives people hold. What does it mean to effectively “manage diversity” in a pluralistic society or a pluralistic company? There are significant differences of opinion, approaches, emphases, and theories. There is not one “skill” that you can possibly inculcate. Is it any wonder that “training” on a single perspective on diversity produces resentment?
A much better approach to addressing diversity in an organization, Amna argues, is education. Done right, education raises challenging questions and exposes people to different thinkers, theories and possibilities. It allows for genuine disagreement and engagement with a diverse range of ideas. In educational settings, organizations would discuss various and competing understandings of diversity. They would explore, for example, how people with varied cognitive styles can help—or hurt—a workplace. They would give people a wide latitude to think out loud without repercussion.
Diversity is crucial but complicated and should be treated as such by the workplace. Let’s stop dumbing it down into training and start providing the thoughtful education that the subject deserves.
To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.
David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.