It can be frustrating reading the literature on implicit bias and wondering what to do about it. It’s one thing to know it exists and quite another to know how to effectively combat bias. As someone who regularly chairs gatekeeping committees of various sorts (from admissions to appointments) I struggle with this one. For sure, I talk to committee members about the issues. Our university’s equity guide is pretty good on these points as well. But I was disheartened to read a Boston Globe story that diversity training has little effect on bias. The Boston Globe story, “Who’s Still Biased?” is here.
Here’s a piece of their story: “Now a few social scientists are taking a hard look at these programs, and, so far, what they’re finding is that there’s little evidence that diversity training works. A paper published last year by the psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton University’s
Woodrow Wilson School and the Yale University political scientist Donald Green comprehensively surveyed the literature on prejudice reduction measures and found no empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior. Similarly, a 2008 literature review paper by Carol Kulik of the University of South Australia and Loriann Roberson of Columbia University found that, on the question of changing behavior, there were few trustworthy studies – and decidedly mixed results among those. And research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity training programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management.”
There were some dissenting voices in the story who argued that effects can be subtle and that small changes can add up and make a difference over time. What do you think? Does standard issue diversity training make a difference when it comes to bias? What concrete steps can we take to combat bias in settings where we can’t simply evaluate without knowing candidates’ gender?