Your Diversity Initiatives are Failing. Here’s Why

Spurred on by the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, organisations rushed to show that they were “on the right side of history” and supporting their minoritised employees, particularly those of Black heritage. This could be seen in a massive increase in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) initiatives, and an increase in those people talking about ED&I.

But, two years have passed and many organisations (and their employees) are not seeing any improvement either in the number of candidates from different backgrounds that make it into their business or in the number that stay for the long-run.

Here, we break-down five reasons why these diversity initiatives are failing:

  1. They are not developed collaboratively with staff and management
    Typically, there are two ways of developing an ED&I initiative: top-down or bottom-up. Both are ineffective.

    In the top-down model, management set guidelines and policies to be followed in recruitment, working practices and the management of teams and people. Employees feel that change is being “done to them”, with no consideration of their needs, feelings or even possible expertise and lived-experience.

    In the bottom-up way of working (which is much more typical in smaller organisations), a working-group or similar might be set up, with employees left pretty much to their own devices to surface challenges and problems and resolve them, relying on their own influencing skills to encourage management to make changes and to communicate about the significance of these to their fellow employees.

    Working collaboratively, with both management and employees focused on the challenges, agreeing aims and objectives and problem solving together allows for the buy-in of employees, a more diverse group of people considering the challenges and bringing their own expertise, and solutions that actually stick.
  2. They have no budget allocated to them
    Some of the best things in life might be free, but that’s certainly not the case for organisational change. There are few similar issues that are talked about as being so important, but have so little budget allocated to them. When most organisations can subsidise gym membership for all employees, but can’t afford to ensure their employees aren’t facing discrimination and actually feel safe at work, it makes one wonder where the priorities really are.

    Without the ability, or inclination, to pay for either professional advice or even the time for their employees (and leadership) to attend suitable, challenging and regular training, real change is unlikely to occur. For most, conversations around race, gender, sexuality, ability/disability are challenging and understanding how to have a positive impact in the workplace around these areas takes time, focus and dedication that managers and leaders can’t be expected to have simply picked up over the past few years. Additionally, making changes of the scale and nature required around ED&I takes time and, in business, time is money. If you can’t allocate the money, you are not going to have the time (whether from within the organisation, or from an external resource/consultant) to make the changes needed.
  3. You are not reviewing (and changing) your company culture
    You can put as much effort (time and money) into bringing different people into your organisation. You can promote your vacancies on job boards with a focus on “diversity”. You can make the language in your adverts inclusive. You can blind-review applications. You can interview x number of applicants from y backgrounds. BUT even if you successfully manage to hire someone from a different background to those you normally hire, without a focus on your company culture, it is unlikely that person will stay past a year.

    Your company culture is what your employees have to face every day when they work in your organisation. It’s the jokes by the water cooler. It’s the venues for your social events. It’s who gets listened to in meetings. It’s the assumptions that are made, unconsciously, about the lifestyle of colleagues. If your company culture is not safe, open and honest, those people who you hire who are different from your normal hires (who don’t fit in to your company culture) will not stay with you for long.
  4. There is no long-term commitment to change and continuous improvement
    This work is not easy and real change takes time. Sending every employee and manager on unconscious bias training is not going to be transformative to your business. In order to make real and lasting change, have an impact, a journey needs to be started (and continued).

    As with any organisational change, aims need to be agreed, goals set, and a realistic timeline developed. You will make mistakes, some things won’t work out, and the organisation will learn along the way. The journey to a truly “inclusive” organisation, one where everyone belongs, is a journey of continuous improvement – a (ultra) marathon not a sprint, and it needs to be approached with a long-term view and commitment.
  5. They are performative, not authentic
    If your organisation started thinking about ED&I because it was on the news, because it’s what your peers or competitors were doing, or if you are making any of the mistakes above, there is a high chance that any commitment you have made to diversifying your workforce is performative.

    Without the input of your entire workforce, without budget, without culture change, and without long-term commitment, your diversity initiatives will fail and will continue to fail. Understand that an authentic focus on ED&I sees this work as important and treats it as such. True “diversity” is not a show, it is a way of running your organisation to the benefit of all employees and all customers, both current and potential/future.

There is a lot more that could be said about each of these points, so keep an our on our blog for more.

If you would like to start on the journey towards meaningful change, making your organisation one where all can belong, get in touch.

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