Don’t invest in DEI programs that don’t work

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As journalists, we are often called upon to tell stories about cultures that are different from the ones we belong to. We come at those stories, and approach those cultures, with biases and assumptions that are often unacknowledged and hidden, even from ourselves. When covering a culture or community not our own, it is vitally important to explore and examine those biases. Moreover, we face challenges attracting, retaining and developing talent from the very communities we increasingly serve. So US companies alone spend more than $8 billion a year on DEI initiatives; that number is expected to rise in the years ahead.

Yet the diversity training that many organizations pay thousands of dollars to provide every year doesn’t work.

Do DEI programs decrease incidents of discrimination? Increase the number of non-white individuals in leadership positions not related to DEI work? Strengthen the perception of inclusion among team members? Many credible studies indicate that today’s DEI programs do none of these. A 2019 meta-analysis of more than 490 studies of DEI programs, involving some 80,000 people, found that unconscious bias training did not reduce biased behavior.

What’s worse, separate research has determined that these initiatives can backfire, making prejudiced behavior more likely in the workplace. A scientific review of more than 700 companies found that, after employees had completed unconscious bias training, the likelihood that Black employees would be promoted in organizations went down, not up. We see similar results in studies of sexual harassment training programs: not only do they not reduce bias and discrimination, they sometimes make the problem worse.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt noted last year, “If you’re spending money on [DEI] training, you’re wasting not just money but a lot of people’s time.” He advised leaders to “try something different.”

Headwaytraining.org is something different. We were founded by journalists who are determined to find the best research available on reducing bias, and to identify evidence-based strategies to increase equity and inclusion in our workplaces. The result is a set of programs that work, centered around collaborative problem solving and behavioral change.

Our work with KQED in San Francisco, for example, resulted in a new process for handling news pitches that’s more transparent, accountable, and fair. Vinnee Tong and I wrote a piece with suggestions on how you can replicate KQED’s success in your own newsroom. KQED’s Chief Content Officer, Holly Kernan, said, “We were fortunate to work with Celeste; her professionalism and openness to our needs and values ​​was a huge benefit for our organization. I would work with her again in a heartbeat.”

The best way to prevent issues from escalating is not to wait until they happen. Among our range of experience-based offerings, two in particular can have powerful impacts for your organization. The first is cultural competence editing. Our editors will read your reporting with a critical eye to ensure your newsroom is covering all cultures and communities with respect. Second, we also offer training for your team members so they have the skills needed to talk about difference in a productive way.

CULTURAL COMPETENCE EDITORS

It can be invaluable to have members of communities whose stories we tell help us recognize when we got it wrong, framed it inaccurately, or portrayed characters without fully acknowledging and understanding their culture and context—before we present, not after.

Our cultural competence assessment provides you a professional journalist with first-hand knowledge of a culture or community for a low-cost, one-time or ongoing engagement. We help you assess how your story acknowledges and accepts the differences in behavior, appearance and culture of a community that may not be your own. Our assessment will point out any errors or biases in the storytelling, and can help provide context for telling the full story of that community.

FACILITATOR TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION

Our intensive, highly interactive course is designed to disrupt the current model of diversity training in which consultants are called in when conflicts arise.

If one or more of your employees has completed our course, you will have trained facilitators on site who are prepared to lead discussions and engage their co-workers in collaborative problem-solving exercises. Participants learn how to lead a conversation about equity and inclusion, how to help resolve conflicts in the workplace, how to respond to everyday microaggressions, and how to teach their co-workers to do the same. Engaging and educating your team before an issue should arise is the best way to prevent one from occurring.

Past participants say:

“I believe this will be an invaluable skill to bring to my workplace, to aid in creating the culture I’ve been wanting to see for years.”

“This has been the most practical and applicable [training] to my work. While other trainings have provided valuable information, I have rarely walked away with actionable steps that will help both me and my colleagues.”

“I learned so much that I can implement at the station and in my life.”

“I cannot say enough how critical this work is and has always been. The true success of ALL businesses, public and private, as well as for-profits and nonprofits, must be about more than increasing revenues for shareholders or an expectation of “social return” on capital for stakeholders. Entities and organizations must also “see” their employees as long-term investments, and offer training such as this, to help positively change the challenging workspaces that we all enter and leave, almost daily.”

Our industry invests in DEI initiatives, yet our workplaces are still largely white. We attract headlines in major outlets when we lose talented colleagues from marginalized communities. We find ourselves having to react to op-eds like this one from 2021 entitled, “The unbearable whiteness of National Public Radio.”

We need to stop doing what we have always done. As Current’s Executive Director, Julie Drizin, wrote in 2020, “Public media has a whiteness problem. You know this. Everybody knows it, especially people of color.” Headway.org can help you and your team members find solutions that are unique to your organization. Evidence-based, compassionate and culturally experienced advice, can help your team employ practical strategies to move the needle at long last towards equity and inclusion.

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