Reeducating the baristas

That makes two things that diversity initiatives are good for: dodging litigation and fattening the bank accounts of people who declare themselves diversity trainers. It’s a do-it-yourself profession, requiring no particular training or certification, and enormously lucrative. Buy a shingle; hang it and they will come, all the nervous executives trying to stay a few steps ahead of trouble. A pioneer in the diversity business, Dr. Lennox Joseph, once told me the advice he gives young people. “I tell them, ‘If you want to make a large amount of money in a very short period of time, go into diversity.’ ” Race and gender entrepreneurs by the thousands have followed his lead. Time estimates the total value of the diversity industry at $8 billion. It’s nice work if you can get it.

As for the other goals that diversity training is supposed to be good for—raising employees’ awareness of their unconscious racism, nudging executives to seed their managerial ranks with more women and minorities—several surveys over the last two decades have shown it to be more or less worthless. Most recently, the Harvard psychologist Frank Dobbin head-counted his way through more than 800 midsize and large U.S. companies that had made diversity training mandatory, as Starbucks is doing. Over a five-year period he found no increase in the percentage of managers who were women or minorities. In fact, the number of black female managers declined more than 9 percent, that of Asian men 4.5 percent.

The effect of diversity training on employees’ racial attitudes is similarly unimpressive. It’s not clear that such an effect can even be reliably measured. Those who have tried have failed to see any change in attitude lasting more than a few days. The resentment, hostility, and feelings of victimization it often provokes tend to last longer.