At a time when anti-discrimination training is more important than ever, President Donald Trump wants to end such sessions for federal employees. That flies in the face of some laws and denies where a majority of Americans stand on racial issues.
Reportedly after watching a Fox News story on diversity training, Trump directed the Office of Management and Budget to identify federal spending related to any training on "critical race theory," "white privilege" or anything else that suggests the U.S. is "inherently racist." In a memo, OMB director Russell Vought said Trump had asked him to end funding for "divisive, anti-American propaganda sessions."
Nothing is further from the truth. By design, the goal of diversity training is to help people have sometimes difficult discussions to foster better understanding and increase cultural awareness, knowledge and communication. It can prevent civil rights violations, increase inclusion and promote teamwork. And there's nothing "anti-American" about building stronger and more inclusive workplaces.
The Trump administration's timing couldn't be more out of step. The memo comes as the nation is experiencing a national reckoning over racial injustice in policing and other areas following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In addition to being the just, fair and moral thing to do, good equity training has a legal component as well. If the administration checks its own EEOC case lists, it would know that hundreds, possibly thousands, of plausible race-based complaints are filed each year because discrimination still occurs in American workplaces.
During the past 40 years, state and federal governments have adopted anti-discrimination laws. Human and civil rights rules — including in housing and employment — require fair and equal treatment. Employers that offer training can prevent or reduce discrimination complaints and lawsuits.
In addition, some studies have shown that employers that build diverse, inclusive workplaces experience improved collaboration and decisionmaking, increased staff well-being, and elevated creativity and innovation.
A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.
Like most types of instruction or awareness-building, not all equity training programs are equal. Employers should offer training that is tailored to the needs of their workers and management.
OMB's Vought said in the funding memo that Trump and his administration are "fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals." If that's true, they should embrace programs that are designed to do just that.
Trump's denigration of equity efforts sends sets the wrong tone for a nation struggling to make progress on racial justice and inclusion. His efforts to do away with the much-needed training for federal employees should be rejected, not emulated, by employers in the private sector.