What’s wrong with command and control and the rise of prize philanthropy

Rethinking diversity programmes

Command-and-control approaches to increasing diversity don’t work. Worse than that, they can actually be counter-productive. This conclusion, based on an analysis of three decades’ worth of diversity data from more than 800 US firms, is alarming, because command-and-control is exactly what most large companies do when trying to boost their diversity performance. That said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Despite all the noise around diversity in recent decades, representation by minority groups remains fairly static. Among US firms with 100 or more employees, for example, the proportion of black men in management increased by less than one third of a percentage point (from 3% to 3.3%) between 1985 to 2014.

This fascinating paper unpicks each of the traditional mechanisms for righting the diversity imbalance in corporate America – and, drawing heavily on insights from occupational psychology, explains why they don’t work. Take the most common: diversity training. Most training carries an implied threat – “discriminate, and the company will pay”. Such “negative incentives” rarely if ever change long-term behaviour. In fact, they can actually lead to resentment by employees, turning them against the very inclusive policies they are being trained to promote. The same outcome...

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