Why Diversity Programs Fail

My conversation with Harvard Professor Frank Dobbin

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I host a weekly radio show on SiriusXM 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton, called Work and Life. We publish edited versions of my conversations as free podcasts. I invite you to listen to the episode (embedded below) that is my conversation with Frank Dobbin, a Professor of Sociology at Harvard, where he studies organizations, inequality, economic behavior and public policy. Frank is Chair of Harvard’s Organizational Behavior PhD Program. His 2009 book, Inventing Equal Opportunity (which won the Max Weber and Distinguished Scholarly Book Awards from the American Sociological Association), charts how corporate human resources professionals defined discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. With Alexandra Kalev, he is developing an evidence-based approach to diversity management, studying both the effects of corporate diversity programs on actual workforce diversity, and the effects of workforce diversity on corporate performance.

Frank’s research shows that most corporate diversity programs don’t work. Stew and Frank explore the ways mandatory diversity training, diversity hiring quotas, and other programs actually decrease demographic diversity in management. They fail because of a focus on controlling managers’ behavior, rather than engaging them in solving the problem, exposing people to others who are different, and encouraging social accountability for producing change. Frank offers suggestions about what is effective in promoting workforce diversity; like creating a diversity task force, mentoring, and cross-functional teams. This episode features a caller to the radio show with an inspiring story of what she has done to increase diversity in her workplace.

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