Why Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Fail

You know there’s a pretty solid business case to nurture a diverse and inclusive workplace. When you do it right, employees work 12% harder, are 19% more likely to stick around longer, and collaborate up to 57% more effectively with colleagues. Even executives are on board, with more than 80% claiming to be strongly supportive of D&I efforts (source). So why do most diversity and inclusion programs fail? They seem to either bomb spectacularly or at least fall well short of the kind of value everyone seems to think they can deliver. Below are the things I think help explain the failure. Which ones sound right to you?


Why diversity fails... and what to do

Why diversity fails… and what to do

I think it’s easy for executives to check a box on a survey that says they strongly support D&I initiatives. But does that claimed support really translate into adequate support for D&I programming? In Deloitte’s 2011 Global diversity and inclusion: Fostering innovation through a diverse workforce study, it notes that 97% of the companies surveyed “…had formal diversity and inclusion strategies in place with specific programs and policies to recruit and retain a diverse workforce” (source). I quoted that sentence from Deloitte’s key findings because it’s going to come up again later in this article. Yes, companies are apparently doing something, but how well is it supported? The same study goes on to note that 46% of survey respondents mentioned budgetary issues were preventing greater implementation. That would seem to indicate that executives aren’t putting their money where their mouths are. Why would that be the case? Doubts. There was also 41% who highlighted “…failure to see the business case for diversity.” Obviously you’re not going to “see” the business case if you don’t provide adequate support for the programming! I think the deeper cause is doubt about that business case.

D – I = Failure

Going back to the sentence I quoted above about the number of companies with D&I strategies, notice how it says they have real programs and policies to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. It might have just been a slip, but I think it’s very telling that the word inclusion doesn’t appear along with the “specific programs and policies” language. You can do all sorts of things that will in fact make your company more diverse. And then you’ll really start to have problems! Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for greater diversity in the workplace, but there’s a good reason that we call it diversity and inclusion. If you can’t get your wonderfully diverse employees respecting each other and collaborating effectively across differences, you may very well not see the promised results of the D&I business case. The old adage that birds of a feather flock together is simply true. People naturally gravitate towards people who look, think and act like they do. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless of course it gets to the point where conflict between groups begins to occur. And that’s all too often the case.

D + I is Hard

There’s simply no getting around the fact that getting diversity and inclusion right is really hard work. It involves getting people to really open up and be honest about potentially biased or prejudiced beliefs they may not even realize they hold. Creating a space that feels safe enough for those conversations to take place is no small feat, but it’s exactly what has to happen to put the “I” back into D&I. Without it, you’ll wind up creating more headaches for yourself and your company, and help perpetuate doubts about the business case for D&I.

Those executives who are supposedly all for D&I initiatives, by the way, are also quick to pass the buck on why they fail. In fact, “46% said middle management fails to execute diversity programs adequately.” I’m willing to bet that if you asked middle management about the D&I efforts, they’d probably point out that there is inadequate support for them to do it right. It’s kind of a chicken/egg question, but I’d also be willing to bet that executives and middle-managers alike have their doubts about the whole D&I concept to begin with. Stay tuned for articles that will help your company get past the blame game for why D&I programs fail and put you on the path towards D&I success.

October 2, 2014   Updated :March 25, 2015   diversity, inclusion   

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