Work force demographics, which reveal increased diversity among the working population, are triggering a huge growth in diversity training programs. Although these programs typically are designed to improve working relationships, many of them are accompanied by a backlash from those who do not agree with the focus of the programs or the messages they deliver. Some people believe that diversity training should focus only on those categories protected by law—race, gender, and disability. Others argue for a more inclusive definition encompassing age, educational level, family structure, job function, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and values. However, it is the messages these programs deliver that spark the greatest controversy. This publication considers myths that cause some people to fear or resist diversity training as well as myths overstating its outcomes and effectiveness.
Do Diversity Programs Discriminate against the Majority?
Many workers—white males in particular—fear that in the rush for a more diverse workplace, they will lose out. They believe that, in the past, having the right qualifications has been the sole basis for realizing most workers' employment and advancement goals. Now equity quotas and diversity benefits for minorities are being added to the employment equation, creating discomfort for many workers. Unless the fears of those who believe that racial or gender diversity goals will overshadow their own employment status are addressed, companies are likely to experience employee backlash from their diversity training efforts (Day 1995).
The way training is delivered can perpetuate discrimination fears by making some groups feel that they are the villains and others the victims. For example, diversity training that focuses solely on the stereotyping of women and minorities places white males in the role of perpetrators instead of including them in the equity equation. People don't want to hear that they have been successful only because of their skin color, nor do they want to hear that they alone are responsible for the oppression of female and minority workers (Flynn 1999). Employees must be convinced that the organization's diversity programs "do not seek to displace white males, but rather to prepare workers and managers to work in a heterogeneous environment, one where everyone can compete equally for organizational resources" (Riccuci 1997, p. 39).
Diversity training may also be perceived as a source of reverse discrimination, especially when the trainers hired to deliver the training are selected solely because they represent a minority population, rather than because they possess diversity training skills (Flynn 1999). Studies show that some people who assume the role of diversity trainer are not qualified to deal with the issues that surface in these programs (ibid.). Although they many have interpersonal skill training experience, some diversity trainers have limited knowledge of...