Diversity Training

Umbrella Summary

What is diversity training?

Diversity training refers to a “distinct set of instructional programs aimed at facilitating positive  intergroup interactions, reducing prejudice and discrimination, and enhancing the skills,  knowledge, and motivation of participants to interact with diverse others” (Bezrukova, Spell,  Perry, & Jehn, 2016, p. 1228). In the absence of a standard approach, there has been significant  variation in the design and context of diversity training. The following characteristics have been  identified as differing across trainings reported in the research literature (Bezrukova et al.,  2016):  

  • Content Focus: Group‐specific training focuses on learning about one or more specific  groups (e.g., African Americans, females, persons with disabilities), whereas inclusive  training deemphasizes group differences and focuses on promoting inclusiveness of all  groups.  
  • Duration: Trainings can be as short as 30 minutes and as long as several years.  
  • Objectives: Awareness training aims to increase participants’ awareness of assumptions,  values, and biases about both their own and other cultures, whereas skill‐building training  focuses on monitoring and managing behavior in response to cultural differences.  
  • Instructional methods: Trainings employ either a single instructional method (e.g., video or  simulation) or multiple methods.  
  • Approach: Trainings can either stand alone or be integrated into more comprehensive  diversity initiatives.  
  • Attendance: Trainings can be either mandatory or voluntary.  

What is the value of diversity training?

Overall, diversity training leads to positive participant reactions and improvements in attitudes,  knowledge, and behavior (Bezrukova et al., 2016). The effect is strongest for reactions, followed  by smaller changes in knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes (Bezrukova et al., 2016). All  outcomes are better when the training is longer and includes skill building, rather than focusing  only on increasing awareness (Bezrukova et al., 2016). When training is integrated into more  comprehensive diversity initiatives, there are greater changes in attitudes and behavior, though  not in knowledge (Bezrukova et al., 2016). Though participants like voluntary training more,  behavioral changes are greater for mandatory training; changes in knowledge and attitudes are  the same for voluntary and mandatory training (Bezrukova et al., 2016). Participants also prefer  the experience of a variety of instructional methods, but using multiple methods instead of one method does not affect learning outcomes (Bezrukova et al., 2016). There are no differences in  outcomes based on the content focus (group specific or inclusive), participants’ age, or the  racial or gender composition of the training group (Bezrukova et al., 2016). In short, research  suggests that diversity training outcomes are maximized when the training is longer, includes  skill building, is part of other efforts to improve diversity, and is mandatory. In addition,  participants will like it more if it includes a variety of instructional methods, though that does  not improve learning outcomes.

How does diversity training work?

The existing research is not yet sufficient to support meta‐analysis of the mechanism(s) through  which diversity training causes change. Though it has been established that there are no  differences in outcomes for a) group‐specific versus inclusive training and b) one versus  multiple training delivery methods, there are many other approaches to examine, most of  which are based on theories about prejudice reduction (see Paluck & Green, 2009 for a  narrative review). For example, interventions based on the contact hypothesis reduce prejudice  by inducing a common identity through intergroup contact and collaboration (Pettigrew &  Tropp, 2006; 2008). Unfortunately, there is a lot of training that is not grounded in any theory,  which means that much of the existing data are not able to provide insights about how and why  training is or is not effective (Paluck & Green, 2009). Rigorous evaluation of additional  approaches will shed more light on which approaches are more or less effective and, by  extension, the potential processes through which change does or does not occur.  

In addition, more research is needed to explore the role of pre‐training individual differences in  factors like demographics, personality, attitudes, beliefs, and motivation. Post‐training results  such as on‐the‐job behavior and other more applied outcomes should be examined to  understand the extent of training transfer to the job.  

Child welfare training programs, especially those conducted in partnership with universities,  offer a valuable opportunity to a) develop training on the basis of established theories and  evidence and b) conduct more rigorous applied research of this topic through experimental or  quasi‐experimental designs. Even without significant revamping of curriculum, child welfare  training programs are probably well positioned to compare the effects of two of the more  common training approaches in child welfare—developing cultural competence and developing  cultural humility. Though the focus in child welfare tends to be more specific to working with  families of diverse backgrounds, the overall training objectives are very similar to those of  general diversity trainings. Depending on the status of current curricula, evaluations could be  done within agency training programs or across training programs through interagency or  interuniversity cooperation.  

QIC-WD Takeaways

  • Overall, diversity training leads to positive participant reactions and improvements in attitudes, knowledge, and behavior.
  • The effect of training is strongest for reactions, followed by smaller changes in knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes.
  • Diversity training outcomes are maximized when the training is longer, includes skill building, is part of other efforts to improve diversity, and is mandatory. In addition, participants will like it better if it includes a variety of instructional methods.
  • Participants prefer the experience of a variety of instructional methods, but using multiple methods instead of one method does not affect learning outcomes.
  • There are no differences in outcomes based on the content focus (group specific or inclusive), participants’ age, or the racial or gender composition of the training group.
  • There are many other approaches to examine, most of which are based on theories about prejudice reduction. Rigorous evaluation of additional approaches will shed more light on which ones are more or less effective and why.
  • More research is needed to look at pre‐training individual differences in training participants and at on‐the‐job outcomes.
  • Child welfare training programs are well positioned to test theory‐based diversity training.

References

Bezrukova, K., Spell, C. S., Perry, J. L., & Jehn, K. A. (2016). A meta‐analytical integration of over  40 years of research on diversity training evaluation. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 1227–1274.  

Paluck, E. L., & Green, D. P. (2009). Prejudice reduction: What works? A review and assessment  of research and practice. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 339–367.  

Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta‐analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal  of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 751–783.  

Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2008). How does intergroup contact reduce prejudice? Metaanalytic tests of three mediators. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 922‐934.  

Author(s)

Megan Paul, PhD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Suggested Citation

Paul, M. (2020, July 1). Umbrella summary: Diversity training. Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development. https://www.qic-wd.org/umbrella/diversity-training

  

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