Why DEI Initiatives Fail -- And How To Ensure They Succeed

Diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) policies are among the most important initiatives in the business world today. Hiring a diverse workforce helps to ensure that the organization is poised to meet the needs of all the communities they wish to serve, regardless of race, gender, religion, political affiliation, or orientation.

But hiring a chief diversity officer and making a public commitment aren’t enough. Too many corporations make public gestures -- sponsoring a float for a Gay Pride Day parade or saluting African Americans during Black History Month -- while not supporting their employees through policy, professional development, and pay equity. In such cases, it’s no surprise that these DEIB initiatives fail.

Here are four reasons that DEIB initiatives fail, and what you can do to ensure success.

Relying too much on concentric circles. The global economy has created amazing resources for networking and recruiting, such as employee referral programs and LinkedIn. But these shouldn’t be the only places, as they can result in limited diversity and “likemindness.”



Networks are concentric circles that are often filled with people just like the person doing the recruiting. To ensure diversity, consider joining or recruiting through an organization related to your business, like Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), an organization for African American professionals in IT, or the National Association of Women’s Sales Professionals, a 15,000-member organization seeking to close the gender gap in sales.

Failing to address inequality post-hire. The world has seen too many examples of brands loudly proclaiming their diverse workforce, while having less than equitable pay and promotion policies. Every organization should be extremely thoughtful of the experiences they are creating for employees they recruit from marginalized communities. At my company, we form employee resource groups who provide penalty-free feedback that allows us to course-correct and to update our DEIB policies on a regular basis.

Sticking to one geography or skill level. Businesses that are located in non-diverse locations will struggle to fulfill their DEIB goals. But if there’s one good that came out of the pandemic, it’s the realization that corporations can recruit talent worldwide.

What’s more, flexibility around skill level will go a long way in expanding talent pools. Skills can be taught (and investing in employees shows you value them and ensures loyalty). In return, you will have candidates who understand the unique needs of their communities and the best ways to serve them -- insights far more difficult to come by.

Reinforcing why it matters, not meeting quotas. Companies shouldn’t hire to meet a quota; rather, hire with a focus on measurable data, while simultaneously working to create a psychologically safe environment for team members. The focus on measuring creates a stickiness and a commitment, and gives DEIB a better chance to improve with dedicated energy, effort, and resources.

DEIB programming investment also allows a company to diversify its perspective of markets, customers, and important cultural contexts. If you hire people from a specific community, ask: Do they have channels or venues to make views known? Are they empowered to bring the kind of change your company seeks? Rather than set quotas, think about metrics that reflect the degree to which your company successfully solicits and deploys their insights.

Don’t expect to launch a perfect DEIB program out of the gate.. But I can promise you this: The results are well worth the effort. Inclusive practices invite people in, equitable governance builds trust, belonging gives your employees a reason to stay and thrive, and diversity future-proofs your company.

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