Despite the attempts some employers are making to build awareness of cultural differences in the workplace, their efforts may not be having the type of long-lasting impact they are hoping for, new research finds.
A study recently published in the Psychological Bulletin found that, while many employees gain an initial increase into cultural awareness after training, their thoughts on diversity tend to revert over time.
The researchers found that in order for diversity training to be successful, it needs to be mandatory, delivered over an extended period of time, integrated with other initiatives, and designed to increase both awareness and skills.
In addition, employers should vary up how the training is presented. The study's authors discovered that employees responded more favorably to diversity training when it used several methods of instruction, including lectures, discussions and exercises. [See Related Story: Hiring a Referral? You Might Be Closing the Door to Diversity]
Kate Bezrukova, one of the study's authors and an associate professor in the University of Buffalo's School of Management, said diversity programs have the greatest impact when they are delivered as part of a series of related initiatives, such as mentoring or networking groups for minority professionals.
"When organizations demonstrate a commitment to diversity, employees are more motivated to learn about and understand these societal issues and apply that in their daily interactions," Bezrukova said in a statement.
For the study, researchers analyzed more than 40 years of research on diversity training. It included a combination of data from 260 studies and more than 29,000 participants across a variety of fields.
After examining all of the past research, the study's authors discovered that diversity training typically has positive effects on employees' knowledge and attitudes and behaviors of diverse groups.
However, over time, while employees' cultural knowledge remained the same or increased, their attitudes regressed to what they were before the training occurred, according to the study.
"The attitudes this training attempts to change are generally strong, emotion-driven and tied to our personal identities, and we found little evidence that long-term effects to them are sustainable," Bezrukova said. "However, when people are reminded of scenarios covered in training by their colleagues or even the media, they are able to retain or expand on the information they learned."
Bezrukova said that in the end, diversity training has the potential to make a huge positive impact in addressing biases and prejudice within organizations. The key, however, is ensuring that the training is done the right way.
"At best, it can engage and retain women and people of color in the workplace, but at worst, it can backfire and reinforce stereotypes," Bezrukova said.
The study was co-authored by Karen Jehn, a professor at the University of Melbourne Business School; Jamie Perry, an assistant professor at Cornell University; and Chester Spell, a professor at Rutgers University.