Why does diversity, equity and inclusion strategies fail so frequently? There are a number of factors that we have seen at CADIA, and I’d like to share a few observations so that members of the CADIA community can avoid some of the pitfalls.
First, DEI is not a program…or an initiative, or effort, or an undertaking. It is a system like quality or safety. If you think of it that way, you will start to see why so many well-intended efforts fall short. Here are some top reasons:
1. Lack of Leadership Commitment
This is the #1 obstacle that we see over and over again. Without commitment from the top, many companies will struggle to make inroads in DEI. At a former employer, our CEO was 100% committed to safety. It was part of our corporate philosophy, it was noted in every conference room and reported on at every employee meeting. There was no doubt about the leadership commitment and it still wasn’t easy to get better at it, but we all knew the tone and expectation was set at the top. DEI should be no different.
2. Lack of Buy In
We have found that it can take a significant foundational effort to get employees fully invested in the idea of diversity, equity and inclusion, and meeting individuals and organizations “where they are” is paramount to success. People may misunderstand, feel threatened or even attacked unless they are allowed to make the personal and professional journey to understanding and buy in. It’s important for DEI professionals to give people grace – not labels – as they work through the sometimes-complex conversations about diversity and the bottom line, why equity matters, and how inclusion can transform an organization. If you consider implementing a new safety system, you would have a multi-faceted approach to informing and educating everyone – from shop floor maintenance to the C-Suite. You would expect not just compliance, but active engagement after a strong rollout. All employees would share in every win and every near miss. DEI is the same.
3. Lack of Direction
Many well-meaning organizations will embrace DEI as an imperative, and will create plans, timelines and even metrics. But if these organizations don’t have a consistent, persistent and systemic approach, they can fall short. Sometimes it’s a lack of resources – either not funding the effort and/or expecting already busy employees to take on a greater workload, or not making the business outcomes equal to other corporate metrics, or not holding individuals accountable for goals and objectives. Quality as we always say is everyone’s job. DEI is the same. But you would not expect quality improvement without putting in the effort. If you train someone on quality, they also need to then put it into practice.
We think that by looking at DEI as an organizational system, companies can truly innovate to drive systemic change and year-over-year progress toward a company’s goals. This effort will build more diverse and inclusive cultures that in the end, will improve the organizations business goals.
For more reading on the barriers to success:
Fixing the Flawed Approach to Diversity
5 Reasons Why Diversity Programs Fail
Diversity Insight: Set Up to Fail!
Chief Diversity Officers Are Set Up to Fail