For decades, employers have conducted diversity training to promote teamwork and minimize the risk of bias lawsuits. Courts have encouraged such training and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces federal fair labor laws, all but requires it.
In the wake of recent social protests and a wider cultural discussion about race and gender bias, sensitivity to diversity issues at work have become heightened as many employers have stepped up training and internal dialogues.
And according to polls, the majority of employees have embraced these discussions.
According to John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, the purpose of diversity training is to promote better communication and minimize conflict at work.
The Association has been on the leading age of offering diversity training to its employer-members when Sarno, a lawyer, created a training curricula in 1995 in response to a wave of sex harassment class actions brought against employers. Since that time, an entire training industry has emerged and Sarno and the Association staff have delivered thousands of training classes to New Jersey employers.
The key to a successful training outcome is not to politicize the training and not to be too legalistic, says Sarno.
“From time to time there are outlier employees who want to argue their cultural grievances. They are often angry and confused so it’s best to just take a commonsense, business-like approach to the training” says Sarno.
On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping that prohibits federal contractors and grantees from engaging in some forms of training.
The Order has been widely misinterpreted as a political edict banning diversity training, says Sarno.
“I wish people would take a moment to read once in a while and not react to misleading headlines. The Order prohibits political and ideological indoctrination. It has nothing to do with diversity training that promotes teamwork and reduces the risks of bias complaints” says Sarno.
The Order prohibits training that “is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”
The Order is “a powerful political and cultural statement, but has nothing to do with diversity training that promotes teamwork and cooperation” says Sarno.
“I love the way it is written and the language that is used. I’m in total agreement - diversity training should not divide the workplace, it should not be a form of blaming - it should promote teamwork, better communication and more cooperation. That’s the way we do it” he says.
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