Diversity Training Has Transformative Potential

Effective diversity training programs require the development of comprehensive and long-term curricula. 

Reviewed by Daniel Estupinan


Across the United States, there has been a significant increase in demand for diversity training. These training programs have grown in both their importance and accessibility as the United States continues to experience various demographic, economic, and social changes. Many of these trainings are intended to reduce prejudice and discrimination within an organization and enhance the occurrence of positive interactions among diverse groups of people.

Despite these intentions, existing research on the effectiveness of these training programs have generated mixed results. Some studies have shown that diversity training may contribute toward reinforcing stereotypes, while other studies have shown diversity training has the potential to reduce prejudice. This paper analyzes the effectiveness of diversity training programs and provides insight into the potential policy and research ramifications of those findings.

These findings are provided by Katerina Bezrukova, Ph.D., who is an Associate Professor at the University of Buffalo, along with Chester S. Spell, Ph.D., who serves as a Professor of Management at Rutgers University. Other contributors to this paper include Jamie L. Perry, Ph.D., who serves as an Assistant Professor at Cornell University, and Karen A. Jehn, Ph.D., who serves as a Professor of Management at the University of Melbourne.

Methods and Findings

Before the completion of a quantitative analysis, an extensive search of existing literature was completed, with a focus on identifying studies relevant to diversity training. To address the potential impact of publication bias, the authors also gathered studies that may have reported small or null effects, and thus may have not been selected for publication. These search efforts resulted in 2,174 pieces of literature, which were then screened to eliminate studies related to, among other things, prejudice among children, opinion pieces, and those that were not directly relevant to both diversity and training. Articles without sufficient quantitative information were also removed. Upon completing this rigorous screening process, quantitative analysis was undertaken in the remaining 236 articles to provide a series of effect size estimates.

The meta-analysis of the total dataset provided the basis for a series of findings related to the effectiveness of diversity training, several of which are summarized below:

  • Inconsistent with previous research in the workplace, this paper found that the effectiveness of diversity training on enhancing reactions and attitudinal learning diminished over time.
  • Unlike the diminishing effect of diversity training on reactions and attitudinal learning, the effect of training on cognitive learning was either maintained or improved upon over time.
  • The focus of diversity training, whether it concentrates on specific demographic groups or discusses issues that are generalizable to most demographic groups, does not have an impact on the effect of diversity training.
  • Longer training programs are more effective in that they provide more opportunities for skill development and generally lead to greater positive reactions.
  • Diversity programs that are one part of a more comprehensive training curriculum are generally more effective than standalone classes or workshops.
  • Voluntary training programs were less effective in enhancing behavioral learning than mandatory training programs. Yet, participants in voluntary programs had more favorable perceptions of their training programs than those participating in mandatory programs.
  • The demographic characteristics of participants generally does not have an impact on the effectiveness of diversity training programs.

While several of these findings were either inconsistent with previous findings, or failed to align with authors’ expectations, the results of this publication produced significant insight into the unique factors that determine the effectiveness of diversity training programs.


As the social demographics of the United States continue to grow increasingly diverse, the findings in this paper could have considerable policy implications for many organizations and institutions. One stakeholder group that is best positioned to utilize these findings are educational institutions, where some researchers believe that diversity training should be a core learning objective of all students. Requiring a comprehensive curriculum involving diversity training for all students may yield the considerable benefits that were identified in this paper. At the same time, the typical length of courses in schools and universities allows students to gain greater opportunities to develop skills related to diversity training.

These findings also provided clarity on several research areas related to diversity training. However, several of these findings may also inspire new areas of inquiry, such as the potential impact of instructors’ demographic characteristics on training outcomes. Other potential research areas include questions around best practices for designing a comprehensive curriculum that includes diversity training, as well as generating greater research into the potential impact of more narrowly focused training programs.

In recent years, there has been a considerable shift in perceptions regarding research on diversity training programs. While the importance of research on this topic was previously discounted, the findings in this paper reinforce the growing narrative that additional research on the potential impact of diversity training is increasingly important in further framing the methods in which it is delivered. These insights may likely contribute to the growth of additional research that enhances the ability of organizations and institutions to deliver quality diversity training programs to their stakeholders.


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