Something I’ve been thinking about in general for a while, recently brought to mind again by Seal Press’ apology and promise to get some training. This post is not about them or about that book or Amanda, just so we’re clear. Not directly. This post is about how diversity or racial sensitivity training is actually not enough to really change a company or organization or a person.
A few months ago there were several articles about how diversity training wasn’t all that effective in creating a more diverse workplace, but mentorships and having people in the company whose job it was to diversify and teach people about prejudice and bias was, in fact, very effective. This doesn’t surprise me. You force employees to take a class they don’t want to be in, they probably won’t listen half the time, and then parrot back what they think the teacher or their employer wants them to say. It’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes people will not change their ways unless someone is standing over them (metaphorically, anyway) watching.
This happens outside of the business world, too. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about people who held unconscious, or even conscious, biases about one group or another, then had to spend a lot of time with someone from the group they were biased against and learned just how fucked up their views were. But this doesn’t always happen. There are plenty of Black Friends(tm) that can attest. It’s mainly when the Black (or whatever) Friend calls out the biased person on their actions or speech that change happens.
My advice to any person or group looking to stop making missteps like putting a bunch of really racist images in a book and thinking it’s just some fun camp (or whatever): Hire someone to be in charge of telling you when you’re being insensitive or downright prejudiced, racist, sexist, whatever. Find someone who has a background in anti-oppression activism. Find someone who has maybe one thing in common with you, but a bunch of things not in common with you. Find someone whose job it is to be an outsider, but someone you must listen to.
My advice to everyone else: Start a consulting business now! You’ll probably have a lot of work thrown your way…