Kilgore Trout: Diversity-Training Stereotypes — The Cure Is Now Worse than the Disease

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

33 Responses

  1. veronica d says:

    I’ll admit that particular course sounds pretty cringe-worthy, although I’m not sure if we’re getting a fair view of the thing. That said, saying “the cure is worse than the disease” is serious bullshit.

    Myself, I rather like my employer’s diversity course. It’s not perfect, but it does give the basics of “respect pronouns,” which helps. It makes it clear that trans folks get treated equally, so there is no question about that.

    I have to retake the thing every two years. It doesn’t take that long. So yeah. It actually reminds me about stuff that I screw up. Which good. I want to be mindful of these things.


    By the way, my recent-ex literally had her employer tell her that he keeps her on cuz she’s a good token. Like, he actually said that. She’s young and works in a fast food restaurant, so she really doesn’t have the institutional moxy to call him on it, but on the other hand, this happened after an incident when one of the junior-managers had aggressively misgendered her, to which she responded by storming out without finishing her shift. So basically she was kinda glad she wasn’t being fired.

    But still. “We like to have you here cuz it shows we’re diverse” is a pretty fucked up thing to hear.

    I dunno. How else does that manager learn that this is a shitty thing to say? I mean obviously he didn’t get the message. So you might say, “diversity training doesn’t work,” except how else does he find out?

    No seriously, where else does he get this information? From her, a young trans girl with zero capacity to navigate bureaucracy? From watching TV shows written by cis people who view us as zoo animals?

    No really, from where?

    Honestly, that manager has probably forgotten any diversity training he took. He just knows that maybe she could make a stink with corporate, cuz he probably has a vague awareness that your junior-manager aggressively calling a trans girl “he” might not be okay, so at least he doesn’t fire her. But the rest?

    Well, maybe he’ll take the damn course again in a few months and, while doing so, this incident will come to mind. Maybe he actually kinda cares. Maybe he says, “Oh. Yeah that was a shitty thing to say. I should approach the issue differently next time.”

    I dunno. I’m all for making these courses smarter and better. Sure. Let’s do that.

    Is there a better way to teach these skills?Report

  2. Stillwater says:

    At face value, it’s a decent business decision and allows the vendor to apply its specialized skillset to producing a multi-language package at a fraction of the cost of creating the material internally.

    So it’s a great business model generating real profits (and job creation!, utility!, productivity!, efficiency!) for investors. What’s the effin problem?Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    Multiculturalism is hard. Everybody forgets that. Conservatives wants to focus on what minorities owe the majorities and liberals what majorities owe minorities. A real functioning multicultural society requires a very delicate dance between majority and minority rights in my opinion. The majority must not persecute or discriminate against minorities and must respect their rights but minorities need to realize that they are well, a minority and that means they aren’t always going to get their way politically or socially and that the majority culture deserves at least some respect to.Report

  4. Morat20 says:

    You know, I used to think those things were an utter waste of time. Just pointless. Like the basic (super basic) IT security stuff, the anti-harassement stuff, the anti-corruption ones — I mean come on, who could be so freakin’ stupid?

    Then, in the space of about a year either I, or a close friend, experienced the following:

    1) Saw about a dozen people abruptly fired from a Fortune 500 company for emailing porn to each other on the company email. At work. During work. Interesting day.
    2) See a secretary, in a 30-person company, get arrested for embezzling millions. (Her boss was the guy that handled wages, timecards, and salaries. She did all the work. So she bumped her salary until she was by far the highest paid person in the company, and kept it that way for years. She was only caught because she went on vacation and forgot to adjust her salary back, and her boss had to actually do his job. He couldn’t be fired, because he owned a third of the company).
    3) See a guy get fired for printing up untold pages (like novels worth) on the company printer. He’d not even bother to pick it up for hours.
    4) Have an idiot fall for a “Click this not even vaguely legit looking link” and take down the internal network for days.
    5) Have another one run a “fun screensaver” sent to them by an unknown address, and take down another network for a day.
    6) Have a 20+ year manager get fired for what wasn’t even vaguely hidden sexual harassment. Nobody could decide if he’d always done it and no one had even complained, or if he’d just gone insane.
    7) And, of course, the guy who got fired and left angry and confused because he didn’t understand WHY the things he was saying were upsetting a bunch of people. (He wasn’t far off from dropping n-bombs. He got counseled several times, it just didn’t take).

    That’s just the stuff I and ONE close friend saw in the space of one weird year.

    And of course, there’s Roger Ailes, who went real old school with his sexual harassment — not even hostile workplace stuff, he went full quid pro quo.

    You know why we have to take basic IT security, anti-harassment training, diversity training, and the like? Because there are people who don’t get it (or don’t care to) who will, in fact, surf porn at work, harass women, drop racial slurs, and solicit bribes. And having the training means some of them will, at least, not go ahead with their stupid impulse — and the ones that do can be fired with little risk of lawsuits because, bluntly, they were warned.

    HR wouldn’t keep dropping the money on it if it didn’t work. (I’ve been told our own company safety culture stuff, which is annoying and pervasive, actually saves the company a surprising amount of money because stupid injuries are expensive and HR tracks it like a hawk).Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

      Yeah, I know this lady, she sent out confidential emails and said that she thought that (c) meant something related to an alphabetical sorting.

      (More seriously, good comment.)Report

    • Damon in reply to Morat20 says:

      I once had a conversation with a State DOL contract auditor about the length and detail in the contract. He said every word in the contract was there because someone somewhere had used it’s absence to get out of doing something. So the contract was written to cya the gov’t. Same for all this “training”.

      But what hit home was the “lack of diversity” in the diversity training. Just like the sexual harassment training I once had that had stereotype after stereotype in it.

      The BEST training I’ve ever had was scenario driven, team consensus decided, and then presented and argued over by the entire room. Each team had to have no more than 1 rep from each dept-finance, engineering, etc. You had to choose the best answer and be prepared to defend/support it. That was a real learning experience….but it cost a lot of money.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Morat20 says:

      The porn thing always surprises me and it is apparently common.

      Why? Of all the things you can do?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Most people seem to think that they can get away with it and many people seem to have very poor impulse control. A lot of people do these types of things or even wilder things without even thinking of the consequences. Any lawyer would have clients who did even stupider things without thinking about it that much.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Morat20 says:

      How does 2 count as embezzling? The secretary’s boss decided to give her a lot of money for doing all of his work and owned a third of the company.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        What Lee said. Or were the raises actually off-the-books funny business?Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          @leeesq @mike-schilling

          My guess is that this is what happened. Secretary’s contract officially gave her a salary of 50,000 USD. Since her boss gave her all the pay information, the secretary bumped her own salary up to something like 450,000 USD without any authorization or permission. Even if the boss was negligent, this is still a embezzlement. She was paying herself above her authorized salary by fudging time cards and other issues.

          Now why it took years to catch this is anyone’s guess.Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Saul Degraw says:


            As I noted, it’s because it was a tiny personal consulting firm (three guys) that took off, and none of them had management training and they just sort of divided up the roles. The had a CPA and stuff, but he just summed up numbers and she started raising her salary when the company was booming — they were hiring a lot of people and her boss wasn’t exercising real oversight anymore. (he was growing the company, doing the work, and trusted her).

            So payroll grew as they hired — just more than it should have. IIRC, one factor was the ‘board’ (such as it was) wanted really simplified reports, so they’d generally see numbers that also lumped in the independent contractors they’d frequently hire (consulting firm, sometimes they needed outside experts) into their payroll figures, so they were also used to large dips and spikes.

            Frankly, they were more concerned with the bottom numbers of “profit” and “loss”.

            I’d like to say it wouldn’t have worked anywhere else, but…..let’s face it. This wasn’t the only manager in the world to “delegate” responsibility, lie about oversight, and get bent over the table for it.

            That was my friend’s workplace for about five years. I’ve met a LOT of people that used to work their (obviously friends of my friends) and the stories they tell….good god. The small firms I’ve worked for have almost exclusively been working with either larger firms or part of government contracts, so I am continually shocked at the crap small businesses do.

            “Jesus, they could get the crap sued out of them” is often my first though listening to people who have worked at small businesses, especially with a sole proprietor.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Morat20 says:

              Small businesses tend to be much more unofficial in their HR practices because it doesn’t really pay to have a full HR department until you get to about 50 employees or more.

              It is sort of hard for a 4 lawyer, 10 staff firm to justify an HR department.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Law firms tend to be small and HR departments are a drag. You could also argue that the prohibition against the unauthorized practice of law and some of the other ways professional practice is supposed to be different from other businesses prohibit law firms from using non-lawyers to hire new associates, staff attorneys, or even paralegals because lawyers have to be the bottom line.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

                Alsotoo lawyers tend to be control freaks, and they’re steeped in a culture that mandates the simultaneous exercise of substantial discretion and good independent judgment on both the ethical and substantive levels. That, and good lawyers and good paralegals can be quite pricey in the ol’ payroll department. So hiring and managing employees, particularly people who will be handling sensitive information and meaningful documents, is a task that it’s easy to imagine is uncomfortable to delegate to even a well-trusted colleague.

                This, of course, does not mean that lawyers are particularly good at doing this, only that they are particularly unlikely to want to let someone else do it.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:


                Interestingly lawyer’s seem to get in trouble when they stop being control freaks and don’t want to do admin work. I seem to remember stories from legal ethics class about lawyer’s who let their secretaries do deposits and this led to the secretaries taking client money.Report

              • But it does justify outsourcing HR to a company that specializes in it rather than picking one of the 10 and making it their lowest-ranked responsibility.Report

              • Small businesses tend to be much more unofficial in their HR practices because it doesn’t really pay to have a full HR department until you get to about 50 employees or more.

                I have a personal anecdote that seems to support this. I once worked at a smallish bank (only about 5 branches or so in one part of Big City). The “HR Department” was some banking officer who had a desk on the first floor. It took at least a few weeks before she actually filled out the withholding allowance form for me, and I had to bug her repeatedly for the opportunity to do it. Perhaps strictly speaking one doesn’t need to fill out those forms on the first day of employment, but still, it’s a basic thing that needs to be done.Report

              • Another anecdote, at the same bank: When I was interviewed for the job, the person hiring me made a point of asking if I was “easily offended at jokes?” He didn’t state it as a condition of hiring, but it seemed understood that the culture was one that tolerated jokes some people might deem inappropriate and that if I said “yes, I was easily offended,” I might not be hired.

                As it turns out, there was a lot of (mostly sex-related) joking that went on. It all seemed kind of benign to me, even amusing, but I can’t speak for everyone else there. And I could easily see how someone less comfortable with such joking might legitimately claim it created a hostile work environment.Report

              • the person hiring me made a point of asking if I was “easily offended at jokes?”

                “Because there’s a guy here who’ll make a pun out of everything you say, and you’re not allowed to kill him.”Report

          • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Thst makes more sense. I thought the boss authorized giving her a higher salary based on the original wording.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Ah, no. She just altered her own payroll disbursement — basically increased her own salary in the system since she had access. She had no authority to do so — she was just the one that handled payroll disbursements and signed the normal monthly audit.

        Her boss wasn’t doing his job (he was supposed to oversee and handle payroll and at least eyeball the payroll) so he never noticed she made herself the highest paid person in the company, by far.

        Until he, for once, had to do his own job. (It was a small consultant company that had grown from three proprietors into about 40 people and was making good money, The owners still had meetings in a bar and acted like they were running a three guy shop. Really a CF management wise).Report

    • pillsy in reply to Morat20 says:

      I work at a really big company, and after I inquired about one of the stranger-seeming rules about reporting expenses, it turned out that it was in place after a couple people had exploited its absence to embezzle several million dollars by having the company purchase equipment for their startup.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to pillsy says:

        I’ve found the same to be true about, say, the weird union rules. “We’re not allowed to do X” almost always traces back to some variant of X being used to try to screw workers, often by trying to get them to do a job they’re not paid for doing.

        But yeah, even in a Fortune 500 company — we’ve had the occasional “WTF” moment. My company publicizes them internally to make employees aware that yes, this stuff actually happens and yes, some of their co-workers are totally willing to do things ranging from stupid to highly criminal.

        I’d say it runs about 90% stupid, about 10% criminal at worst.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Morat20 says:

      In the last year before they retired from the Illinois state university system, my parents had to take an online ethics test.

      Mandated for all state employees by then-governor Rod Blagojevich.

      I teased my father about that for *weeks*.

      I have to do the anti-harassment ones annually as part of my employment.. I find them slightly galling, considering that my personal policy tends to be “don’t be an a-hole” and that pretty much covers all the behavior covered in the program. But I figure my uni needs to cover its nether regions so I roll my eyes and put up with it.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to fillyjonk says:

        The thing about anti-harassment training is…..the people that think “This is obvious” aren’t the people that are going to, by and large, cause problems with that.

        And it’s not obvious to a surprising number of people. Older folks, newly into the workforce folks — some people have no clue how to be professional, and others just can’t seem to scrape together the ability to mentally model a situation from another’s point of view, and frankly a good amount of people are just d*cks.

        And from the company’s perspective — it’d cost a lot more (and still be a guessing game) to try to figure out who doesn’t need it. So they make everyone do it yearly, and then transgressers get remedial stuff if they’re not outright fired.Report

        • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Morat20 says:

          I do think, though, that a non-trivial number of people who would act like a-holes don’t have their minds changed by such training. I suspect they say, “wow, that training says it’s harassment, but c’mon! Why can’t they take a joke?” Still, even for my proverbial “non-trivial number,” they might at least learn that x, y, z are actions that can and will be disciplined. And the training might give cover to management to pursue such discipline as necessary. (I think this is perhaps partially the point you were making with JR below?)

          I will say that like fillyjonk’s parents I’ve had to take annual ethics tests for more than 10 years now, and the tests have evolved from simplistic warnings against things that in my opinion nobody in their right minds would do, to learning about more complicated and technical features of state ethics law that one (or I) wouldn’t necessarily think of.

          Strangely, these tests have also made me aware of things that I would think should be ethical violations but appear not to be. According to how you read one rule, it’s okay to accept gifts from members of the public up to a certain amount of money ($50, I think, but maybe it’s $100)Report

          • Morat20 in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

            Yeah, there’s a number of employees that will at least NOT do it because they’ve been told it’s a firing offense (or otherwise get them in trouble), but whether that works depends on management. Even if they think it’s stupid.

            There’s a reason our company sends out internal emails whenever someone is let go for violating ethical guidelines or harassment policies (they don’t name names, but they make it clear they have no tolerance) — the same reason they have monthly “Here’s how people hurt themselves on the job” slides for safety. Showing that the company is serious about that policy, and pointing out what happens to people who don’t follow it.

            If it’s just the training, and no reason to suspect management will enforce it? It’s not even particularly good legal cover. It’s certainly not going to change many people’s behaviors.Report

  5. j r says:

    The question of whether diversity training is a cure worse than the disease is an interesting one. However, it skips over the more interesting prior question: is diversity training a cure?

    Is it a cure or a rubber stamp? My guess is that it depends on the quality of the training and the overall commitment of the organization implementing the training. Once you answer that first set of questions, the ‘cure worse than the disease’ question answers itself.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to j r says:

      It’s several things. (Honestly, very few things are just one thing).

      1) It’s legal cover. By offering the training, they can defend against both wrongful termination lawsuits and harassment lawsuits on issues like sexual or racial harassment by pointing out that it’s against company policy, that they offer training and internal methods, etc.
      2) It shows that the company takes these things seriously, and so should you. (Although like anything, managerial culture can totally undercut that).
      3) It promotes a more professional workplace — both internally and when dealing with clients and customers. (Seriously, you don’t want your customer facing staff ticking off customers).

      So at the very least, it’s about covering the old posterior. Most companies use it for, well, shaping workplace environments (while diversity is generally promoted, a lot of diversity training seems to be like the racial/ethnic version of sexual harassment training — don’t do that stuff, idiot. It drives away the smart and productive employees and makes us look bad. Learn to be professional).

      • j r in reply to Morat20 says:

        I would call #1 a rubber stamp. That is not necessarily a pejorative, but just a description.

        #s 2 and 3 are just begging the questions that I raised. Does the company take diversity seriously? Does the training in question make the workplace more professional? These are largely empirical questions.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to j r says:

          Well, normally I’d say the continued use of it would indicate so. (HR, for instance, can cite chapter and verse about on-the-job incidents and their safety training stuff. We spend a lot of time on safety, and I’ve spoken with HR people who flat out state safety pushes and regular reminders drop reportables significantly) since company’s don’t like wasting that much money (an hour a person across a company is a lot of time) for no reason, but legal cover alone might be worth it, money wise.

          That said –it only makes a difference if management buys in. If you’ve got management that’ll come down like a pile of bricks on harassment or hostile workplaces, then people will take that training seriously. If management eyerolls it, they won’t.

          So, like most things involving groups of people, depends on leadership.Report