Diversity Training: From Reactive to Proactive

1960s Initial diversity training efforts were largely based on compliance. “In the 1960s people were doing it to make sure they were policy compliant and protecting themselves,” said Kevin Sheridan, senior vice president, HR optimization, Avatar HR Solutions.

1968 Xerox Corp. moves beyond compliance, taking a social responsibility position on diversity, based on a personal commitment from founder Joseph C. Wilson and concerns surrounding the Rochester, N.Y., race riots.

1977 A U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission consent decree with Duquesne Light Co. requires the company to provide EEO training to its managers as a result of alleged discrimination against blacks and women.

1979 McDonald’s Corp. begins its Women’s Career Development program. It is the first of many diversity training and development programs at the company.

1980 Ronald Reagan is elected president. His efforts to deregulate the government’s previously concentrated enforcement of the Civil Rights Act contribute to phasing out the compliance-centric approach to corporate diversity training.

1987 International think tank Hudson Institute publishes the “Workforce 2000” report, which accurately predicts the changes in the American workforce by the year 2000 and introduces the term “workforce diversity.” Corporations begin to consider assimilating the growing numbers of women and minorities entering corporate America as a major motivator for diversity training.

1990 In “From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity,” published in the Harvard Business Review, diversity thought leader R. Roosevelt Thomas details a paradigm shift away from affirmative action to business survival, and the pressing need to make workplaces encourage upward mobility for everyone.

1996 Harvard Business School faculty members David Thomas and Robin Ely publish “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity,” in the Harvard Business Review. The report addresses the learning and effectiveness aspects of diversity training. At this point diversity training is considered a best practice and the concept of “inclusion” joins the conversation.

1999 Nextel begins showcasing its business case for diversity, developing diversity training to improve employee retention, satisfaction and productivity. The training program leads to the direct retention of 36 people. With turnover costs at the company averaging $89,000 per employee, ROI is 163 percent.

2006 Diversity consultants Julie O’Mara and Alan Richter introduce Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks. The tool offers companies a way to gauge how effective their activities are at providing “comprehensive education to foster inclusion.”

2007 According to a New York Times survey of 265 HR professionals and diversity specialists from companies with 10,000 employees, 55 percent of participants report having a diversity department, and more than 80 percent report mandatory or voluntary diversity training for all levels of employees.

2008 Led by University of Arizona sociologist Alexandra Kalev, researchers review 31 years of data from 830 mid- to large-sized U.S. companies and find that mandatory diversity training programs are often followed by “declines in the number of women, African-Americans, Latinos and Asians in management positions.” Voluntary diversity training programs, however, demonstrate positive outcomes.

2010 The Boston Globe reports on the recession’s effect on diversity training. The article, “Training in Trouble?” asks “Is it worth it?” amid tight budgets and tough times.

2012 and beyond Cultural competency and multigenerational diversity are buzzwords when assessing the future of diversity training.

Elizabeth Lisican is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.