15 thoughts on “Why you should stop attending diversity training

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter. So proud of you for writing this. This is dead-on. You absolutely get what is the “right” role for Management. This reminded me of the diversity trainer who taught us, in the federal workplace, that “Jews like to walk to church together,” that “Hispanics don’t always know how to use the rest room,” and that anyone who is offended by anything at all should make a scene in front of everyone to call attention to the alleged offense. Management needs to focus on teaching people how to act appropriately, and stop emphasizing differences and conflict like this. “Some people are offended by seeing the bottom of your shoe” – really? That will help me get along with my coworkers? Thanks for that great tip, Diversity Trainer!

    1. You know, I have an interesting bottom of shoe story. We went to Israel this past December. We were walking along a street in Jerusalem and my 3 year old was tired, so my husband was carrying him on his shoulders. His legs were sticking straight out,so the bottom of his feet were clearly visible to all passersby.

      We happened upon a group of Muslims coming out of their Mosque–huge group, and we had some people look at us kind of funny, but we didn’t think anything of it. We’re obviously tourists.

      But then one woman stopped us and pointed to my 3 year old’s feet. And then we remembered that that was offensive so, we changed his position.

      No one screamed at us. We weren’t offended. We were gently corrected.

      And because we were guests in their town, it made a lot more sense to comply then say, “Well in our culture, it’s not offensive!”

  2. To me, prejudice starts with putting different kinds of labels on ourselves and then comparing ourselves by putting labels on others. Far better, I think, to not assign labels to people. Diversity training fundamentally needs participants to objectively or subliminally assign labels to people. Imagine what might be possible if we eschewed assigning labels, but this is probably too far-fetched an idea to be practical.

    On the other hand, being aware of different mores, imperatives, and etiquette in various cultures has its place, and understanding those differences is not necessarily the same as diversity training.

    1. Yes, by labeling we just point out the differences. Just everyone be nice!

      1. Let’s understand and celebrate the differences. Too often, when confronted with a difference, people want to judge it as “good” (like me) or “bad” (not like me). And then starts the downward slide.

        The parallel step with not assigning labels might be to avoid judging differences. Just accept that there are differences.

    2. “To me, prejudice starts with putting different kinds of labels on ourselves”

      Oh my goodness, this is a brilliant insight. I follow that train of thought because if an individual doesn’t subscribe to or believe in the typical lables associated with others who look/act/think like them, then there’s no need to be offended! As I type this, I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of sense, but I just want LTMG to know that that point really hit home for me. Thanks.

  3. Suzanne – I liked this article – great points. I’m surprised by the negative reaction on the article’s comments section (over at CBS). Sometimes a topic like this is very straightforward and simple (be nice!), yet people have a knack for making it more complicated.

    I am an employee trainer for a government agency and recently conducted a training needs survey. I listed a variety of topics and subtopics that people could selected if interested in training in those areas. I labeled one category as “Workplace Issues” and listed several subtopics like ‘diversity training,’ ‘bullying in the workplace,’ ‘creating a more respectful workplace,’ etc. I was quite surprised that the subtopic which received the most interest was ‘creating a respectful workplace.’ It wasn’t plain old diversity, which I guess is what I would have thought. That tells me that people are more interested in bringing some civility and decency back to the workplace. They don’t need rehashing on all the ways we should tread carefully. They simply want a deeper discussion on respect.

    As a result, I’ve been previewing several training videos on the subject and many of the points you made are also made in the training videos. So I think you have sound advice. I like that you tackle the touchy topics with grace and level-headedness.

    Great work!!

  4. “Like this: “Jim, did you really mean what you just said? Because I’m not sure if you’re aware, but that’s a highly offensive term.” Chances are, Jim will apologize and be more aware of what he is saying in the future.”

    Oh, this totally doesn’t work in some places. I tried that in my last job and all I got were arguments and was told to “lighten up.” I’m actually sooooo glad I got laid off. I hadn’t realized how tense I was all day working with some of those ignorant fools.

    FTR, I’m in southern Missouri, which isn’t a very diverse place overall.

    1. Once lived and worked in Ireland, which when I lived there was not a very diverse place, but that situation is changing rapidly.

      The town of about 32,000 people where I worked we had several “different” employees in my company. The native Irish people were warmly hospitable and quick to include the “different” people in all activities. That was an eye-opening experience for me, and I have many more examples I could relate.

  5. I completely agree and your timing could not be more perfect. At our last staff meeting I touched on this somewhat and talked about how having a personal issue with someone just leads to silly complaints (really I’ve had complaints about how this person doesn’t change her hair style enough; this person talks too quiet/loud, etc. OY! – we have 50 women here!) that get in the way of how people do their jobs. They get offended and hurt and the entire process of nitpicking is just counterproductive… and really what matters is the job that the person is doing, so maybe be nice & compliment them once in a while or help them out when the need it rather than refusing because she’s ‘still wearing that rediculous ponytail’! (sorry, ranting here!). Anyways, it was one of the best meetings we’ve had in quite some time, and so far so good, the drama has lessened a bit. But sadly, and surprisingly, I did get a couple of complaints from a couple of Staff who are obviously way to set in their ways that the meeting was ‘too positive’ and they don’t plan on being nice no matter what! So, I guess I know who to look at the next time there are issues…

    So glad that you have the same point of view that I was taking though:)

  6. Hi Evil,
    My position is Hire Nice. You can train people to do almost anything, but it’s really hard to train adults to be genuinely nice, polite and respectful of others. Even the technically brilliant should have basic social skills.

  7. oh please!!! do you realise that your 5 tips are actually an attempt at diversity training??? In so doing you have just made the justification for training. Just because some training is naiive or just plain bad, it doesn’t mean it all is. There are plenty of bad car mechanics out there, does that mean that we should never try to get our cars repaired?

  8. I worked somewhere that diversity training focused not on race or religion or anything like that, but on “task-oriented people vs. relationship-oriented people” and “people who are on time to stuff vs. people who aren’t on time to stuff”. I was shocked, because it was a mandatory training for all new employees at a large company, and I’d been expecting the legalese stuff.

    In any case, I thought it was really effective, because it let us talk about ways to work with people who have different attitudes and patterns of behavior from our own without judging what is “right” or “wrong”, and obviously this all carries over to differences in background.

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