Scanning the Headlines
It feels like Iíve spent the last several weeks either traveling, recovering from traveling, or preparing to travel. I got back from my latest trip on Monday and while I havenít fully unpacked yet (there were much more important things to do, like catch up on the season premiere of Lost.) I am starting to catch up on things, including some blog posts that have been bouncing around my brain. My first trip of 2008 was to one of my old stomping grounds, the Washington D.C. area, and while I was there I read an article in The Washington Post with the headline "Most Diversity Training Ineffective, Study Finds". The Post article addresses recent research by Dr. Alexandra Kalev, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona, and Dr. Frank Dobbin, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. I looked at the headline and my immediate reaction was ďhuh?Ē
My main issue is with the headline. I admit I donít know a lot about peopleís newspaper reading habits and my complaints about sensationalizing headlines are nothing new (of course neither of those issues will stop me from expressing my thoughts, it doesnít stop many pundits so why should it stop me?). For a reader skimming the paper and seeing that headline the take home message can easily be translated to ďAll diversity training doesnít workĒ and thatís a problem for two reasons. First, the headline paints a broad picture of diversity training when in reality the study looked at efforts at ďmid-size to large U.S. workplaces.Ē Second, the attention-getting headline seems to implicate just diversity training efforts but when you get to the 2nd paragraph of the article the role of company becomes much clearer:
ďRather, it showed that mandatory programs -- often undertaken mainly with an eye to avoiding liability in discrimination lawsuits -- were the problem. When diversity training is voluntary and undertaken to advance a company's business goals, it was associated with increased diversity in management.Ē
HeyÖthat actually makes much more sense to me than just saying that most diversity training doesnít work! Paying lip service to diversity and making employees go to diversity training to simply cover your butt=BAD. Making diversity an organizational priority and having appropriate training=GOOD. I know, I know, Iím simplifying things just as much as the headline did and maybe itís naÔve of me to expect that the complexity of an academic study can be truly represented in a newspaper article.
I know Iíve spent most of this post complaining about the headline but the research study itself seems very interesting and has a lot of promise in thinking about the best ways to implement corporate diversity initiatives and help organizations make meaningful changes. The study referenced in the Washington Post article hasnít been published yet but hereís a discussion of an earlier study by Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, (including a link to a PDF of the 2006 article in the American Sociological Review).
Connecting this all to FairerScience, thereís lots of good advice for researchers dealing with the media, including ways to Keep it Simple and Interesting and Keep it Careful and Intelligent. I donít know of any researcher who can control the actual headline and it looks like Dr. Kalev was putting a lot of these techniques into practice.