Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Spin Doctors

By Thomas Kochman - 03.15.2010

Almost every piece of news that gets reported these days seems to have one kind of spin on it or another from people bent on promoting one or another social or political agenda. We expect that behavior from politicians, cults and other thought squads, caught up in what David Brooks characterized as “information cocoons” in his excellent article, “Getting Obama Right!”

However, the media is no less guilty of spin when it chooses “sexy” or controversial topics for airing or publication to draw in viewers or readers.

And even researchers fall prey to spin in selecting criteria whose single greatest virtue is that it is measurable giving the research and themselves, a sense of relevance or importance that –upon looking deeper—is unwarranted.

As a case in point, Drake Bennett’s article “Who’s still biased” cites researchers who, using prejudice reduction as a basis for evaluating the effectiveness of corporate diversity training, imply that there is somehow a causal connection between prejudice reduction and behavioral change—presumably with prejudice reduction needing to occur in order to achieve the latter.

Yet, there is a whole body of research that shows that changing people’s behavior first, such as discrimination, not only promotes change quicker, but owing to the need of individuals to reconcile the cognitive dissonance between prejudicial attitudes and non-discriminatory behavior might also be more effective in changing prejudicial attitudes than, for example, organizational appeals to \”be fair\”.

I mean, did official government exhortations to \”Just say \’No!\’\” really cause a change in drug related behavior?

Whatever the cause and effect between attitudes and behavior, we accept in doing diversity training that behavioral change should be the ultimate goal.

We do it, as noted in the last blog, “The Value of Diversity Training”, by giving people information that will make them more effective as managers and leaders and avoid personal embarrassment in their relationships with others: business, social or personal.

We judge ourselves by the changes in behavior that lead to improved employee morale, better communication, and a greater sense of social inclusion that participants say they got as a result of having gone through the training.

However, whether that change was motivated by a decline in prejudicial attitudes, a recognition of the need for greater multicultural understanding and flexibility, or rooted in ego gratification from “knowers” trying keep their self-image intact by “getting things right” is immaterial.

In terms of assessing how well the diversity training went down, we follow the old saw, \”The proof of the pudding is in the eating.\”

And until something better comes along to judge our effectiveness, we\’ll go with that.

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