I’m not sure how to tell you this, but diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are NOT BULLETPROOF. I see your confusion (and pain) as you try to figure out how your company somehow sustained those workplace culture wounds, even with that brand-new DEI program in place. OK, I get it. They told you at the proverbial HR Store that all you needed was a DEI training course and you can withstand any culture problems, right?
I bet they shared all of the best customer reviews with you, such as:
- 76% of jobseekers and employees say a diverse workforce is an important factor for them when evaluating job opportunities and companies.—Glassdoor
- 64% of employees feel DEI enhances their company’s mission, vision, and values.—HR.com
- 78% of employees believe diversity and inclusion offer a competitive advantage in the marketplace.—Deloitte
- 79% of companies raised their DEI budget in 2022.—WBR
Those reviews are wonderful and absolutely real, but do they tell the whole story? The truth of the matter is no, they do not. So many organizational leaders have been led to believe that using DEI as a shield makes them impervious to the dangers of a toxic workplace. Don’t be fooled. Toxicity is an extremely powerful weapon, and at times, it can pierce through even the best protective armor, rendering it ineffective. You’re probably wondering: Well, if that’s the case, is investing in DEI even worth it?
DEI is undoubtedly worth it. In the eyes of some, it’s priceless. Let me be clear: Having a sound and consistent DEI culture is essential in crafting and sustaining a workplace that allows its employees to feel significant, maximize their potential, and have legitimate reasons to stay long term. However, the thought that there can and will never be fallout from the implementation of a DEI initiative can be counteractive to the desired outcome. In fact, in select cases, it can cause more exclusion rather than inclusion. This is not a question of intent; it is a question of preparation, collaboration, and execution. How you approach cultural change is just as, if not more, important as the actual change itself.
Now, before you return your DEI purchase to the HR Store, let’s discuss a few ideas to consider to make sure you utilize the right armor in the right way.
Identify Specific Challenges/Needs
Companies have a tendency to attempt to install a “one size fits all” or an “all-encompassing” DEI program. This leads most employees to feel there is no actual purpose to the initiative and see no true value in buying in. Take the time to accurately assess the state of your organization to pinpoint the areas of concern. Third-party-facilitated culture assessments, focus groups, and employee surveys are excellent tools to gather essential data that can aid in cultivating your individual DEI plan.
Let’s make sure you buy the right DEI product for your situation!
Read the Instructions
After compiling necessary data, utilize that information to guide you in how to best approach your DEI initiative. The data can help prevent avoidable errors that can compromise the integrity of your DEI strategy. Here are a few tips:
Don’t take the data personally. It is simply a resource to guide your future execution. It’s also highly recommended that you research what efforts have been successful for other companies in similar situations.
Don’t be afraid to seek outside assistance from professionals who specialize in culture-building. Perspective from a source with no biases can help you devise a customized strategy that is beneficial to all parties involved.
Your DEI product might be faulty because you skipped the included how-to guides.
Don’t Do Too Much, Too Fast
It’s a common mistake for most companies to try and repair everything at once. No matter how noble the intent, attempting to reinforce every lacking area of your company culture simultaneously leaves many small areas exposed to danger, weakening the overall effectiveness of your DEI implementation. Be realistic about what you are able to do that can make an actual impact, and develop your new culture incrementally. The more employees can see and feel real change rather than performative actions that give an illusion of change, the more alignment and momentum you can build for future change.
Your DEI product was not meant to be a onetime fix!
Focus on Belonging, Not Blame
As we focus on driving inclusion, one of the biggest traps can be falling into the blame game. Yes, it’s imperative to identify the sources of our culture challenges. However, the goal is not to create an endless cycle of accusation. The moment this happens, it creates an environment of MORE EXCLUSION. People become more defensive and retreat to sides, seeking allies who agree with their perspective. Belonging, however, is only achieved when the focus is on understanding one another and collaborating on the best ways to make the work environment feel safe for everyone. Conflict causes division, but productive conflict breeds solutions.
Your DEI product is meant for safety and protection; it’s not meant to be weaponized!
Track the Progress
Any DEI strategy worth its salt is designed to be living and breathing, not static. Because we’re human, we’re constantly evolving, so our work culture should be evolving, as well. There is no finish line. Employees are driven by witnessing progress and feeling they are involved in the shaping and execution of the initiative. Keep them informed on the status of your DEI plan with trackable measurables, and regularly seek employee feedback. It’s important to be transparent about the process and embrace the importance of flexibility.
When employees can’t see the plan and the plan’s effectiveness and have no open communication, it can create possible perceived favoritism for certain groups and/or people. Even worse, positive actions for some could indirectly cause a feeling of insignificance for others. No, you can’t make everyone happy, but you can make every effort to give everyone an opportunity to be heard and helped.
Your DEI product is designed for agility; it’s not meant to be sedentary!
No, DEI is not bulletproof, nor was it created to be. That’s perfectly fine! However, with the right application, it is a game-changer in the culture-building arena. You’ve made the right choice to acquire it, so let’s work together to maximize its strength and sustainability!
Brian Poindexter is a HR Consultant, Facilitator, and Leadership Coach at PerformancePoint LLC.