How Can Companies Achieve Organizational Diversity?

Not all diversity programs are created equal. Those that establish organizational accountability for diversity, whether in the form of full-time diversity staff or a diversity task force, have a far greater impact on increasing the representation of women and minorities in management than either mentoring or diversity training programs.

To date, organizations typically employ three different kinds of diversity programs: 1) establishing organizational accountability for diversity, 2) diversity training to reduce unconscious bias, and 3) mentoring or other social networking strategies to reduce the social isolation often experienced by members of underrepresented groups. A recent study by Kalev, Dobbin, and Kelly measured the effectiveness of these three types of diversity programs. The research team measured change in representation of minorities in 708 private sector organizations. Key findings were:

  • Diversity committees that are held accountable for reaching diversity goals increased the odds of holding management positions by 19% for white women, 27% for black women, and 12% for black men.

  • Social networking resulted in a modest positive effect for white women but a negative effect for black men, while mentoring produced a positive effect for black women.

  • Diversity training alone was the least effective of the three types of strategies. While these training efforts increased the odds of reaching management by 7% for white women, they actually decreased the odds for black women and black men by 6% and 8% respectively.

  • Establishing organizational accountability in conjunction with either mentoring or diversity training, however, sometimes increased the effectiveness of these two strategies.



  • Set clear, measurable goals for diversity.

  • Implement evaluation procedures for ongoing measurement of these goals.

  • Hold managers accountable for promoting as well as hiring diverse employees.

  • Involve members of majority groups (e.g., white males) in leading accountability and other diversity efforts.

  • Ensure that leaders of diversity efforts include senior employees who actually have the authority to make, carry out, and enforce necessary decisions.

  • Maintain a definition of diversity that focuses on groups who have historically experienced underrepresentation or discrimination. Do not dilute this definition to include “all differences.”

These findings are particularly important for assisting corporations in implementing the most effective diversity programs. Corporations use committees or staff accountable for diversity less often than they use other kinds of programs. For example, while 39% percent of companies in the above study had diversity training programs, only 20% utilized diversity committees, and only 11% employed diversity staff. This suggests significant changes need to be made if corporations are to get the “most bang for their buck” when it comes to effectively achieving diversity.


  • Kalev, A., Dobbin, F. & Kelly, E. (2006). Best practices or best guesses: Assessing the effectiveness of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies. American Sociological Review, v. 71, 589–617.
  • Mannix, E. & Neale, M. (2005). What differences make a difference? The promise and reality of diverse teams in organizations. American Psychological Society, v 6, 2, 31-55.
  • Metzler, C. (2006). The need for a critical, institutional approach to diversity in organizations. Cultural Competence in Health Care, 14, 1.
  • For more information, also see Cornell’s ILR School Diversity and Inclusion Practice Program

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Author: Catherine Ashcraft