An opinion piece in The New York Times caught my attention last month: “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?” The author, Jesse Singal, writes, “Some diversity initiatives might actually worsen the DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] climates of the organizations that pay for them.” According to Singal, reasons for this surprising contradiction range from human nature (i.e., oppositional defiance against mandatory training) to the quality of training programs, many of which can be interpreted by employees as blaming a majority group for harming those in the minority.
Over the past decade, numerous studies have indicated the net benefits of having a more diverse and inclusive organization. For example, a 2018 McKinsey & Company report, “Delivering through Diversity,” showed a clear link between diversity and company financial performance. The study found that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. Likewise, companies who rank lowest in gender and ethnic diversity were more likely to underperform their industry peers on profitability. A 2012 study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, “Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance,” analyzed the performance of 2,400 companies with and without women board members from 2005 onward. The study found that large-cap companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed their peer group with no women on the board by 26% over the six-year timespan.
The benefits of diversity and inclusion go far beyond financial performance and can lead to more accurate group thinking, fewer errors in tasks, and greater innovation. The question then arises: how can an organization become more inclusive if many training programs are ineffective (or even detrimental)? The article “Effective Practices in Equity and Inclusion for ChE Academic Departments,” (pp. 34–41) has some practical suggestions. This article — written by a team of academic leaders with deep experience in coordinating DEI efforts — stems from the first National Diversity Equity Workshop for Chemical Engineering Academic Leaders, hosted by AIChE in June 2022.
As a first step in moving the needle toward real equity and inclusion, the authors suggest forming a departmental DEI committee, which would be responsible for assessing bias and climate, as well as holding regular meetings with representatives from all levels of the department (e.g., undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and alumni). Although the article is targeted toward academia, many of the suggestions could be applied to a company setting. For example, implementing inclusive hiring and promotion practices, where criteria and priorities are clearly defined in writing before any candidates are considered, can help combat biases. “Each of us can contribute to a diverse and inclusive culture, and from our current positions, we can empower those around us as well,” write the authors.
AIChE has committed to advancing DEI along the IDEAL path (inclusion, diversity, equity, anti-racism, and learning). Learn more by visiting www.aiche.org/equity-diversity-inclusion and attend “The Faces of Process Safety: Process Safety Mentoring for Our IDEAL Workforce” event at the AIChE Spring Meeting on March 13 in Houston, TX.
Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief
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