Beta at feministphilosophers has linked to some useful information for us to think about today: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6171/615.summaryinterventions/. I wish more discussions about promoting diversity could follow these lines!
The article, published in Science on Friday, surveys the field of research on the success rates of various diversity intervention programs. Though the research is not directed at philosophy in particular, it seems fair to assume that similar considerations will apply.
Some key points:
- The research suggests that academic scientists have important implicit biases that work against women and minorities. (As other research has shown, there has been a significant reduction in explicit biases over the past few decades: it’s the implicit biases that have lagged behind. Hence, initiatives aimed at causing academics to see, assert and believe anti-discriminatory and pro-diversity statements will not solve the problem, though it may lead many to falsely believe they are helping to solve the problem).
- The science of effective diversity promotion is in its infancy. To date, there have been no randomized control trials measuring possible changes in scientists’ behavior in the wake of diversity training. The nearest thing has been a randomized control trial measuring self-reported intentions rather than behavior changes, and this study was done using undergraduate psychology students rather than academics.
Nonetheless, some results from recent non-RCT (randomized control trial) studies appear to show that ‘diversity interventions’ along certain lines, including one interactive semester-long course, have genuine and lasting effects on participants’ implicit biases and behaviors.
However, many attempts to promote diversity are not only ineffective but “may paradoxically worsen bias and fail to improve diversity.” More specifically, “[p]rograms appear to be particularly counterproductive when they place pressure or blame on attendees, rather than presenting diversity as a shared community challenge and opportunity. A common approach urges participants to recognize their own personal culpability in perpetuating discrimination and to take corrective action by complying with societal egalitarian norms. This approach leads to backlash when its central message is perceived as accusatory, which diminishes participants’ internal motivations to be nonprejudiced and induces higher levels of bias. Unintended outcomes highlight the importance of testing interventions before widespread implementation and underscore the need for an evidence-based framework of intervention elements and outcomes.” (p.616).
In philosophy, there are several diversity-promoting initiatives underway at many different levels. How effective will these be? We don’t yet have enough solid research to be nearly as confident as many promoters andcritics of these initiatives would like us to believe, but these findings are certainly suggestive about what will work and what might actually make the problem worse.
It strikes me reading over this that those of us who aim at increased diversity might usefully be distinguished according to our motivations.
On the one hand, there are those who aim most of all at, well, increasing diversity. Certain things we might do will further that end, and certain others might frustrate it. Which is which might not be intuitively obvious, but we must do our research and use it to help us bring about favorable consequences.
And on the other hand, we have those for whom involvement in diversity-promotion is a way of moralizing: of identifying, rebuking and distancing themselves from evildoers; of forging an identity with others on the morally right side by uniting themselves under -isms and policing their ranks and the periphery for norm-violations; and so on.
I suspect that error about our own motivations on this issue is, as so often, widespread.