Diversity Education Initiatives Consistently Improve Diversity Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Diversity in Academic and Organizational Settings

Across academic and non-academic settings, diversity intervention show promising results.

Reviewed by Tyrone Fleurizard


In this paper, Dr. Carol T. Kulik and Dr. Loriann Roberson investigate the effects of diversity education interventions across different learning outcomes and contexts. In conducting their literature review, Kulik and Roberson aimed to answer two questions: Does diversity education affect participant diversity knowledge, diversity attitudes, and diversity skills? Do these effects vary by academic and organizational contexts? 

The authors find that, overall, diversity education interventions improve diversity knowledge and diversity attitudes in organizational and academic settings, and that each context has unique features that strengthen the effects of interventions. The researchers also ask six important questions to set an agenda for future research in the field. 

Kulik is a Research Professor of Human Resource Management at the University of South Australia, and Roberson is a Professor of Psychology and Education in the Social-Organizational Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Methods and Findings

The researchers reviewed seventy-four studies spanning nearly four decades. They evaluated the effects of diversity education interventions on participants’ diversity knowledge (learning the experiences and customs of other cultures), diversity attitudes (approach toward diversity broadly and toward different social and demographic groups), or diversity skills (interpersonal skills needed to work with culturally diverse groups). 

The researchers review criteria was specific. They only reviewed studies that assessed the impact of diversity interventions on the specific areas of knowledge, attitudes, or skills, and those that targeted adult learners, as well as used a pre-test—post-test design or comparison with a control group. They excluded studies that were contact interventions.

They found:

  • Diversity education improves diversity knowledge across academic, organizational, and lab settings.
  • Diversity education improves overall attitudes toward diversity in organizational and academic settings, but the results are less consistent regarding attitudes toward specific demographic groups.
  • Diversity skills receive the least attention in evaluation studies. While participants tend to perceive themselves as having higher skills after training, these beliefs are often based on self-assessments. The few studies that consider objective measures of skills have found inconsistent results.

To forge ahead on diversity research, the authors pose six questions for those interested in diversity work. They also offer ways to approach these questions. These are:

  1. What is the speed and pattern of diversity competence development?
    • Because changes in different learning outcomes may appear at different points during and after an intervention, a heavy reliance on pre- and post-intervention testing may be limiting. To address this, the authors suggest conducting repeated assessments during the diversity education intervention so that any change can be observed over time
  1. What is the long-term impact of diversity education?
    • In business settings, it is often important to measure learning beyond an immediate post-training assessment. In academic settings where students take courses on diversity, it may be helpful to track student learning over the course of their undergraduate career to see long-term returns.
  1. What really makes diversity education work?
    • Although some studies have concluded that diversity education initiatives have succeeded, it is hard to determine how exactly interventions define success.  Researches need to determine which specific activities lead to change and define success. Further evaluation should focus on specific activities rather than on whole programs.
  1. What is the impact of voluntary vs. mandatory diversity education?
    • At the time this article was published, there is no good evidence about the impact of voluntary vs. involuntary training. Voluntary training may be more effective by illustrating a willingness and commitment to engage with the work. On the other hand, mandatory sessions may be more effective by demonstrating organizational commitment to diversity and reducing selection bias. Both should be tested.
  1. How can we measure diversity skills?
    • Individuals and organizations interested in this work need to measure skill learning and development outside of self-reports. For example, some medical students’ skills are assessed using objective, structured clinical exams where students interact with trained patients.
  1. How does diversity education impact larger organizational outcomes?
    • There is a need to better understand how individual learning outcomes (e.g. improving diversity knowledge) are related to larger organizational outcomes (e.g. diversity in management). Two approaches include paying special attention to the skill and behavioral outcomes due to the diversity education intervention and the long-term effects of such interventions.


Based on the studies selected by the authors, diversity education interventions can improve participants’ diversity knowledge and diversity attitudes. They also call for individuals and organizations to capitalize on the unique features of particular settings to get the most from these interventions. This may include the longevity of the semester schedule in academic settings or the flexibility of designing interventions for specific issues in business settings.

To answer the key questions posed by the researchers and to begin making change, institutions should focus on building collaborations. For example, diversity educators in academic contexts may benefit from connecting with academic program directors and alumni relations staff, and diversity trainers in business settings may do well by connecting with human resources staff. Such networks may enable educators and trainers to keep in touch with participants of diversity education interventions, manage follow-up, and determine the long-term effects of interventions.


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