Today, every company professes a keen interest in diversity, equity, inclusiveness, and belonging programs. At a philosophical level, most executives understand and support the DEI programs at the surface level.
Reasons DEI Programs Fail:
Strategic Prioritization: Companies may be interested in diversity, but in the grand scheme of things, where company priorities on survival, growth, competition, and talent scarcity take center stage, the concept of DEI may remain a checkbox item, not a strategic focus.
If the strategic importance is not evident in the plans and actions of the top brass, the DEI programs will fail or will not make a significant impact.
For example, in the company values statements, one may express a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Still, the DEI programs will flounder if the words are not followed through by actions and a measurable scorecard to which executives are held accountable.
Cultural Underpinnings: In modern workplaces, outright hostility is limited. Bias is not codified or explicitly approved. But there are microaggressions galore, and implicit bias abounds. Whether it is watercooler conversations, which groups join together for lunch, or unknowingly perpetuating stereotypes, there is a beneath the surface, simmering tensions that abound. These microaggressions and implicit bias cause tremendous stress and anxiety that is difficult to “see” for the powers that be.
For example, on a Monday morning, discussing weekend ski trips or a golf outing before a meeting commences may not sound and feel like discrimination. However, some who do not have the resources or exposure to such recreational activities may feel excluded.
Or for example, assuming one’s identity can be summed up in one statement: “You are Asian. Therefore, you must be good at math.” Or many other such unforced errors. And most of the people that say and do these things may not be racist or discriminatory, but unwittingly many commit such faux pas.
The cultural underpinnings often adversely affect the “belonging” part of the puzzle.
Shifting the Blame: When it comes to hiring diverse talent, one of the constant refrains is “there are no qualified candidates in the pipeline.” Of course, it may be partly true. However, large companies with immense resources should make an effort to spread their recruiting net far and wide.
For example, if campus placements are limited to a few select colleges, how will companies find diverse talent – intellectual, cultural, educational, racial, and other attributes of a diverse workforce?
Instead of blaming the pipeline, companies can also institute apprenticeship programs for underrepresented groups on board.
Lack of Buddy System and Mentorship: It is not enough to onboard a candidate but to ensure career growth and progression to retain diverse talent. Since some of the underrepresented groups lack role models similar to them, creating a buddy system and mentorship programs is essential.
These types of programs go a long way in helping the diverse set of employees succeed in their careers and contribute to the company’s overall success.
Let’s assume a company took efforts to recruit a few from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) but did not create a support system and left the young people to fend for their own. This sink or swim culture does not portend well for collegiality, camaraderie, and pursuit of common destiny.
Companies that don’t make the inclusive workplace feel welcome and belong and ensure guardrails to prevent failure are indeed going to struggle to maintain diversity.
Reactive Response: If a company waits until “incidents” – lawsuits, press coverage, regulatory action – to initiate a DEI program, it will remain a checkbox item. Similarly, companies that try to keep up the appearance and fill “quotas” are also do not harness the synergy of a multicultural, multiracial, and intellectually diverse workforce.
Imagine a company that satisfies the lack of underrepresented groups by picking a person to be the token of diversity. Such charade will not last long. Tokenism will lead to the collapse of the entire edifice of DEI.
Lack of Transparency and Accountability: Companies that don’t publish data about the composition of the workforce and the retention and advancement of minorities will find it challenging to build trust and confidence.
Transparency, openness, clear responsibility, and accountability are essential to the DEI program’s success.
If your enterprise DEI track record is abysmal, please consider the abovementioned factors, evaluate the current situation, and create a better path to a diverse and inclusive workforce.