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A quick Google search for diversity training yields hundreds of results. An entire industry has sprung up around government and private sectors requirements for employee education on inclusivity and sensitivity in the workplace. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (D.E.I.) sector is thriving, and it has our biases, prejudices, and fears to thank. The work perpetuated by consultants, however, has no endgame. In fact, it is self-perpetuating. If it wasn’t, then those consultants and middle-men who teach us how to use the right pronouns, avoid microaggressions, and beware of our privilege, would be out of their jobs. As this new industry gains a serious foothold in the economy, any attack on identity politics is an attack on livelihoods.
A classic episode of The Office, the second of the series, skewers diversity training in the workplace.
The Office is a mainstay of millennial’s programming choices, and it has a field day with the stupidity of diversity training, taking offence at nonsense. Yet millennial expectations are being blamed for this massive uptick in diversity training. According to The New York Times, “Millennials’ expectation of inclusion is part of what is driving C.E.O.s and directors to bring in D.E.I. consultants. That generation will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025.”
In fact, The New York Times estimates that diversity training in the workplace, complete with consultants, offsite days, inclusivity seminars, and the like “…can take anywhere from three months to a few years. Fortune 500 companies with existing diversity departments may only need educational refreshers, while companies starting from scratch may require thorough examinations of mission statements, employee reviews, airing of past grievances and more.
Consultants talk to employees about their day-to-day experiences, redline handbooks and intervene with coaching and conflict resolution.”
That sounds like an awful lot of hourly billing. If you were a diversity consultant marketing your services, the best thing you could do for your business would be to sell a package of workshops, with refresher courses for existing employees and training for new hires. You’d want to sell your merch, too. Handbooks, stickers, buttons, maybe some signage. Maybe you’d even offer a retainer so that your racism and transphobia fearing clients could have access to you whenever a pronoun was mislaid, or a joke inadvertently overheard.
A teacher friend told me about a mandatory diversity training seminar she attended at the private pre-school where she worked. The D.E.I. pros addressed the teachers and staff, talked through their script about being careful to not offend coworkers, to make sure that those who were white were aware of their privileged position. My friend, who is white, was aghast. She didn’t feel privileged in the workplace, where her direct superior was a woman of colour, as were many of her coworkers. She didn’t feel disenfranchised, either, instead, she thought they were all on equal footing.
She was informed by her coworkers that, when it came to the interactions with the parents of the white students, her privilege was clear. What she was supposed to do with this lesson was unclear. She thought that she was a good teacher, and worked hard to ensure that all her students were engaged and active. She wasn’t provided any solutions to her privilege, only the information that it was a problem.
Many workplaces have got so on board the trans inclusivity bandwagon that they’ve gone far beyond making sure people feel comfortable expressing their pronouns, they now require it. Instead of asking people their pronouns, pronouns are required, on name tags and in email sign-offs. While employers think this is inclusive of trans and non-binary persons, it is non-inclusive of people who think the entire pronouns declaration trend is complete garbage. The solution to that? Diversity training. Probably those folks just need a refresher course.
If it feels like D.E.I. is a top-down approach to inclusivity and sensitivity within the workplace, that’s because it is. The whole thing gets rammed down people’s throats without any say, this is a top-down approach—much like previous top-down approaches. Just because it flips the script and alters the power dynamic doesn’t mean it disrupts the identity-based power dynamic, it just gives a different identity a leg up in the power department. That’s not better.
Helping invert, but not disrupt, the power structure, are Cornell University, Georgetown, and Yale, which all offer Diversity Training Certificates. Students can study remotely and earn the right to tell their fellow employees how to act in the workplace. Once the universities get hold of discipline, they don’t let it go. The revenue associated with offering new classes to new students is too great. We’ll really know we’re screwed when students will be able to write a doctoral thesis on diversity education and earn a D.E.I. Ph.D. Doctors of Diversity will not be interested in ending inequity, but making sure everyone believes that it thrives, just to uphold their own relevancy.
Hiring for offices of diversity and inclusion is on the rise in private and public sector workplaces. Along with human resources, reps to discern inappropriate behaviour between the sexes and make sure everyone knows just how complicated their health benefits are, we have reps to let us know when our privilege is showing, or when we should be offended by the exposure of a coworker’s privilege. If you don’t know if you have been microaggressed against, or if you’re worried that someone is at risk of being misgendered, these are the folks to report those thought crimes to.
This is why identity politics is here to stay. There is no end goal where inequity is gone. With the advent and acceptance of unconscious bias as a reality, we can just accuse each other of unconscious racism, misogyny, and transphobia forever. If we don’t know we are biased, then when we are called out for those biases, we will need extra special D.E.I. training, handbooks, refresher courses, one on one sessions, remediation counselling, and those people who train us will need to be qualified. The money is flowing, and no one has any intention of stopping it. If identity politics were to peter out, an entire industry would be at stake. For D.E.I. to be maintained, racism has to be perpetuated or a bunch of people will be out of work.