DEI Training Works
If higher education IT professionals see DEI as a priority for themselves, others, and their institutions; are encouraged to participate in DEI workshops; and see DEI training as something that can contribute to their professional growth, what can we say about the actual impact of DEI training on the individuals who participate in those opportunities? According to one study, a meta-analysis of 260 independently published projects spanning 40 years of research assessing the impact of diversity training, those who participate in DEI training can and do experience improvements in their understanding of DEI and shifts in their behavior.1 The greatest and most enduring impact appears to be on the cognitive dimension in which participants acquire knowledge about issues related to DEI. Changes in behavior such as skill acquisition and judgment, and changes in attitudinal/affective learning such as attitudes about diversity, self-efficacy, and the capacity to perform, were smaller and appear to decay over time without reinforcement.
While our survey instrument was not designed to capture either cognitive or behavioral data on higher education IT professionals, our results do afford us the opportunity to explore the relationship between DEI training and the attitudinal/affective dimension. Specifically, we can explore the impact of DEI training on its affective contributions to professional growth and how that, in turn, shapes individuals' attitudes about the priority of DEI for themselves and, subsequently, others.
Using the advanced statistical method of structural equation modeling (figure 5), we identified the relationships among the variables in question, all of which are positive and statistically significant. Reading the figure left to right and top to bottom, we find that when higher education IT professionals are encouraged to attend a DEI workshop or training program, they are significantly more likely to actually participate in a DEI workshop and to agree that DEI training contributes to their professional growth. Additionally, actually participating in a workshop significantly contributes to the perception that DEI is important to professional growth in their current position. When IT professionals think that DEI workshops and/or training contributes to their professional growth, they are significantly more likely to see DEI as a greater priority for themselves. And, finally, the greater the prioritization of DEI for oneself, the more likely a person is to perceive DEI as a priority for one's colleagues, supervisors, units, IT organizations, institutions, and local communities. Our findings align well with the research in the field: DEI training has a positive and significant impact on the affective and attitudinal dispositions of higher education IT employees. In the simplest terms, DEI training works.
We should caution, however, that our results do not show an actual causal impact, as our data are not the results of quasi-experimental designs with baselines and posttests that measure particular quantities of interest. And, in keeping with research on the subject, we should caution against thinking that a single workshop or training event can solve all of the problems of DEI; that is, the relationships we find in our data are precisely the kind that the authors of the cited meta-analysis say will decay over time. Indeed, we recommend their key finding that DEI training should be "complemented by other diversity initiatives, targeted to both awareness and skills development, and conducted over a significant period of time."2 If anything, what our findings suggest is that IT leadership should encourage and support DEI workshops and training over an extended period of time for their employees as a first step toward changing the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and culture of their organization.
Katerina Bezrukova, Chester S. Spell, Jamie L. Perry, and Karen A. Jehn, "A Meta-Analytical Integration of Over 40 Years of Research on Diversity Training Evaluation," Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, November 2016.↩︎