Diversity training is a course of instruction aimed at increasing the participants' cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills in order to benefit an organization by protecting against civil rights violations, by increasing the inclusion of different identity groups, and by promoting better teamwork. 
Diversity training has been a controversial issue, raising questions about moral considerations and counter-productivity.
Observers characterize diversity training in very different ways. Its proponents consider it morally right, because it respects diversity, recognizing the value and contributions of every human being. They also view it as economically sound, because it enables organizations to draw on multiplicities of talents and strengths.
According to Hans Bader, its opponents consider it an oppressive, ideology reeducation tactic that actually reduces the ability of organizations to attain their goals. It has been suggested that diversity training reinforces differences between individuals instead of fostering their commonalities, thus helping to further racialize the workplace, creating situations where people "tiptoe" around issues such as how to relate to people of different cultures as opposed to people learning to communicate with and truly understand each other. It may also, according to law professor Gail Heriot, amount to a "rather blatant form of racial and sexual harassment".
These opinions have been confirmed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which, in Fitzgerald v. Mountain States Tel & Tel. Co. (1995), noted that "diversity training sessions generate conflict and emotion" and that "diversity training is perhaps a tyranny of virtue."
In a paper published in the American Sociological Review, the authors concluded that efforts to mitigate managerial bias ultimately fail to achieve the organization's aim of increasing diversity in the management and leadership ranks. In contrast, programs which established specific responsibility for diversity, such as equal opportunity staff positions or diversity task forces, have proven most effective in general. However, the results also indicate that White females benefit significantly more from diversity training. The benefits for African American females and males were appreciably lower than European American females. Networking and mentoring, which were considered bias mitigating approaches, served African American females the most. African American males were the least likely to benefit from any of the methods.
The news media have used the study results to question the merits of financing the sizable diversity training industry. In January 2008, the Washington Post used quotes from “longtime diversity trainer” Dr. Billy E. Vaughn (Diversity Training University International) and others to make the point that Kalev’s research  suggests other strategies may be more effective than diversity training for mobilizing people of color and women into management roles.
Dr. Billy Vaughn wrote the article “The Short-Sighted Washington Post Article About Diversity Training” in response to the article. The Washington Post news article relied on research data that suggests that mandating sensitivity training for managers does not lead to increased management level positions for non-white males. In his response, Dr. Vaughn points out that the research is based on the assumption that one course or training can change behaviors that have taken a lifetime to develop. Dr. Vaughn wrote “most organizations engaged in a serious diversity effort today focus on building an inclusive organization, for which diversity training is one of several programs in a larger diversity education initiative.”
The results of the study cited in the Washington Post article confirm what diversity professionals and human resource officers have known for a long time. "It takes a long-term effort to promote an inclusive organizational culture", states Dr. Vaughn in the article.
According to supporters of diversity training, the goal is to reach people's sense of empathy and morality. It seeks to address a sense of apathy that many people have because they do not think the problem affects them or they do not believe that they act in a racist manner. Jane Elliott says racism is not inherent: "You are not born a racist. You have to carefully be taught to be one." However, the manner in which these training sessions are conducted and Elliott's role as a trainer have drawn criticism.
Elliott has also been accused of not recognizing the social and political changes that have occurred since the era in which she originally developed the exercise. Alan Charles Kors—a professor of history at University of Pennsylvania—noted, in his defense of students accused of shouting racial slurs in the water buffalo incident of 1993, that Elliott's exercise teaches "blood-guilt and self-contempt to whites," adding that "in her view, nothing has changed in America since the collapse of Reconstruction."
However, Elliott argues that such an approach is still necessary. She is quoted as saying "I've reached a point now where I will no longer tolerate the intolerable. I'm a ball of barbed-wire and I know it." "After 30 years of dealing with this subject of racism, I am no longer a sweet, gentle person. I want it stopped." She has also expressed frustration at the idea that she still needs to do this exercise: "It shouldn't be necessary in 2008", she says, to "…say things that are difficult for people to hear. I'm not kind about it. But neither are the racists."
Mercedes Martin and Dr. Billy Vaughn argue that most diversity training is based on a limited view of what it means to be culturally competent. In their article Cultural Competence: The Nuts and Bolts of Diversity & Inclusion, they point out the limitations of the view that diversity training is all about sensitivity and awareness raising. They state that diversity training based on a cultural competence perspective includes awareness, attitude, knowledge and skill building. From this perspective, focusing on sensitivity and awareness limits the effectiveness of diversity training because it is not based on an understanding of the range of potential other training content that may be needed to improve results.
- Vaughn, B. "The history of diversity training and its pioneers", Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management, pp. 11-16, Spring 2007. DTUI.com Publications Division: San Francisco.
- Orlando Richard, "Diversity at the Top May Boost the Bottom Line," September, 2010.
- Hans Bader: Diversity Training Backfires OpenMarket.org. December 26, 2007. Accessed April 15, 2009.
- Gail Heriot: White Guys Have No Rights. And They’d Better Shut Up If Think They Have (Part 1) December 23, 2007. Accessed April 15, 2009.
- Fitzgerald v. Mountain States Tel & Tel. Co.
- Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin and Erin Kelley (2006), "Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies", American Sociological Review 71: 589–617
- Shankar Vedantam: Most Diversity Training Ineffective, Study Finds The Washington Post, p. A03, January 20, 2008
- Vaughn, Billy. "The Short-Sighted Washington Post Article About Diversity Training". DTUI.com Diversity Blog. DTUI.com. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- PBS, "Class Divided - FRONTLINE". Last modified January 2003. Accessed April 17, 2014.
- McPhee, Nicole (2001-08-09). "Doing diversity right: Renowned Iowa schoolteacher and discrimination educator get to the heart of the matter". Gauntlet News. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- Mirza, Munira (2005-12-12). "Ticking all the boxes". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- Thought Reform 101; The Orwellian implications of today's college orientation by Alan Charles Kors, Reason; March 2000
- NLPC Special Report The Authoritarian Roots of Corporate Diversity Training by the National Legal and Policy Center by Dr. Carl F. Horowitz
- Shah, Allie (1998-03-06). "Race relations expert urges her audience to 'unlearn racism'; Elliott takes a confrontational tack". The Star Tribune. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- Cooper, Desiree (2008-01-08). "She's living, teaching the King dream". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
- Martin, Mercedes; Vaughn, Billy. "CULTURAL COMPETENCE: The Nuts & Bolts of Diversity & Inclusion". Diversity Officer Magazine. DTUI.com Publications. Retrieved 2007.
- What Diversity & Inclusion is Really about - by Joerg Schmitz
- What is the "diversity training" profession?- by Diversity Training University International