The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion fad is on the ropes. Multitudes of state lawmakers are attempting to limit or ban DEI training at state-funded institutions. And in at least six states, anti-DEI bills have been signed into law. At the same time, conservative legal groups are increasingly taking aim at corporate diversity programs. Amazon and Starbucks both face discrimination lawsuits over their diversity initiatives. Comcast has already settled a suit of its own.
With DEI in ever-worse odor, a psychologist and a sociologist, both of whom specialize in bias and diversity, have taken to the Wall Street Journal to explain what DEI training gets wrong and how to fix it. Mahzarin Banaji and Frank Dobbin write that DEI programs fail because they tend to “shame trainees for holding stereotypes” and “seek to solve the problem of bias by invoking the law to scare people.” As a result, they say, “people often leave diversity training feeling angry and with greater animosity toward other groups.”
So the authors recommend a different approach. First, DEI trainers should introduce their ideas with humility. Second, they should “give managers a way to counter biases—namely, training in strategies for cultural inclusion.” With these fixes in place, they say, “implicit-bias education can alert students to the fact that people committed to equality nonetheless hold biases.”
Perhaps Banaji and Dobbin should consider this: No implicit-bias training will ever work because free adults rightfully resent being “trained” by academics in how to treat other human beings. People leave DEI sessions feeling angry because the very notion of wise and good consultants trying to improve your character at the workplace is infuriating.
Think about the premise of it. Until the office trainers get ahold of you, you’re assumed to be morally defective, unfit for mixed company. (Never mind that the classroom trainers have already had a crack at you.) It’s a sweeping insult. Your parents, your faith, your spouse, your friends, your education, your own introspection and personal exploration—all failures. You need the folks with the quizzes and pamphlets and roleplaying sessions to sort you out and make you a good person.
It would be bad enough if DEI training was aimed strictly at altering your superficial behavior. But, as we see above, the key concept here is “implicit bias.” The trainers are there to introduce you to your inner bigot and show you how to tame him.
Besides the very real possibility that you might not have an inner bigot, what business is it of anyone’s if you do? There’s no law against thinking cruel and stupid thoughts. There are laws against acts of discrimination, and they should be invoked wherever applicable. It’s not for no reason that fighting “pre-crime” is the stuff of dystopian science fiction. What stays in your head is yours to do with as you please. Period.
If people leave DEI training with “greater animosity toward other groups,” maybe that’s because they had managed to keep the darkest parts of their subconscious healthily buried until someone with a human-resources-related degree tried to drag it out into their conscious awareness.
DEI is failing and under legal attack because it’s a bad idea. Not because real DEI has never been tried. I don’t doubt that many of its champions mean well. But, as with cruel ideas, compassionate ones don’t count until they’re executed. DEI is now doing real-world harm. And there are laws against that.