Diversity training: O great spirit, walk a mile or two in my moccasins

Never mind that corporate Britain doesn’t manufacture much of anything anymore, other areas are enjoying stellar growth.

One such is diversity training, which has gone from salt mine to gold mine in the past 10 years, with almost 70% of organisations paying at least lip service to its tenets. Nor does it stop there. I searched the internet for diversity training in the UK. How many mentions did this generate? A few hundred thousand? Actually, it’s 11.3 million and rising.

A search for mentions of manufacturing training in the UK generated 20.9 million. Something tells me those numbers will be reversed in five years’ time.

One who will be purring about diversity training’s remorseless march is US equality apostle Jane Elliott. She’s gigging her way round the UK anti-racism circuit and is giving performances in London, Glasgow and Manchester. By all accounts, she’s hard and feisty and tells audiences she’s their resident BITCH (Being In Total Control Honey) for the day.

Her speciality is a ‘blue-eyed, brown-eyed’ exercise, where participants are divided into two groups: blue-eyed and brown-eyed. The brown-eyed group taunts and mocks the blue-eyed. Elliott’s objective is to give “nice blue-eyed white folks the opportunity to find out how it feels to be something other than white.”

She says she got the idea for the exercise from a Sioux prayer: “O Great Spirit, keep me from judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

This prompts a few thoughts: shouldn’t, for the sake of 21st century norms, the last word be changed to trainers, and isn’t Elliott’s exercise really more of a stunt?

Also, does diversity training achieve greater workplace harmony than, say, politeness, respect and good manners?

I recently attended a workshop on the use of drama and professional actors in training. This featured a mini-production on diversity train-ing, which was meant to challenge participants’ attitudes towards looks, race, class, accents etc.

Four thespians played four stereotypes, including a black professional woman and a white working-class male. The audience was asked which of the characters they thought would have a criminal record.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re right: the working-class male got the most votes. This prompted the workshop leader to question why so few of us had plumped for the black female character. Why would we? She was pleasant, polite, well-spoken and confident.

It struck me that this sort of exercise serves no purpose whatsoever as:

a) it forces delegates to make a choice based on a contrived fiction;

b) participants are far too wise to fall into the course leader’s trap and appear racist; and

c) it is based on assumptions of delegate beliefs and behaviour that may well be misplaced.

Organisations that buy into diversity training because they believe it will bring greater workplace harmony may also be suffering from misplaced beliefs. They would be better off encouraging staff to be polite and respectful to one another. Do as you would be done by.

But finding politeness rather than diversity training will require a smidgeon more effort – Google generated just 127,000 mentions for politeness training in the UK.


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