Programs that get results
“Companies do a better job of increasing diversity when they forgo the control tactics and frame their efforts more positively. The most effective programs spark engagement, increase contact among different groups, or draw on people’s strong desire to look good to others”
After Wall Street firms repeatedly had to shell out millions to settle discrimination lawsuits, businesses started to get serious about their efforts to increase diversity. But unfortunately, they don’t seem to be getting results: Women and minorities have not gained much ground in management over the past 20 years.
The problem is, organizations are trying to reduce bias with the same kinds of programs they’ve been using since the 1960s. And the usual tools—diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, grievance systems—tend to make things worse, not better. The authors’ analysis of data from 829 firms over three decades shows that these tools actually decrease the proportion of women and minorities in management. They’re designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ decisions and actions. But as lab studies show, this kind of force-feeding can activate bias and encourage rebellion.
However, in their analysis the authors uncovered numerous diversity tactics that do move the needle, such as recruiting initiatives, mentoring programs, and diversity task forces. They engage managers in solving the problem, increase contact with women and minority workers, and promote social accountability. In this article, the authors dig into the data, executive interviews, and several examples to shed light on what doesn’t work and what does.
Frank Dobbin is a professor of sociology at Harvard University.
Alexandra Kalev is an associate professor of sociology at Tel Aviv University.