If you want to attract and retain talent, it’s important to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Why?

  • According to an April 2021 survey of 8,233 employed adults in the U.S. by CNBC, nearly 80 percent of workers say they want to work for a company that values DEI.
  • The same survey found workers who rate their company’s efforts on DEI issues satisfactorily are:
    • Happier with their jobs
    • More likely to say they have good opportunities to advance their careers
    • More likely to feel they’re paid well for the work they do
  • Hired’s 4th Annual Global Brand Health Report found that 64 percent of respondents say a company’s commitment to DEI would have a very strong or strong impact on their decision to take a job.

We know DEI should be a priority in the workplace. Yet many programs and initiatives fail, even with the best intentions.

For example, the Harvard Business Review reported in February 2021 that 90 percent of firms said they positively considered increasing racial and gender diversity during hiring. However, the researchers found no aggregate preferences for female or minority candidates. In fact, new discrimination appeared. Across all fields, employers rated these candidates as less likely to accept a job if offered.

To ensure success for DEI programs, it’s helpful to be aware of the following pitfalls. Learn how your business can address problems like these.

1. Lack of Leadership Buy-In

DEI initiatives are more successful when there’s a top-down investment in the program and strategies. According to Gallup research, managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement. Each higher-up influences their team members below and so on.

Yet research from BCG found more than 25 percent of employees at large companies don’t feel like their direct manager values DEI efforts. When leadership doesn’t embrace DEI programs, why should the rest of the workforce care?

Businesses must work to ensure leaders play a visible role in DEI. It’s especially important that business leaders who are the face of a company, such as the CEO, are vocal about DEI efforts. For example, an October 2020 survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by JUST Capital and Harris Poll found 68 percent of Americans think CEOs should take a stand on social issues.

How to fix it: Members from your C-suite and the managers below them should have a seat at the table when creating DEI strategies. They should be vocal about implementing them and make efforts to get their teams on board. Ways to do so include:

  • Leading group workshops and training programs
  • Serving on DEI committees
  • Making diverse hires for teams
  • Being inclusive and eliminating bias in team and individual interactions

Mentorship programs can also cultivate diverse leadership from within. Enlist the leaders from your company to serve as mentors who can help diverse counterparts develop the skills necessary to advance their careers.

2. Inconsistent Implementation

DEI is more successful when it’s baked into your company’s values and mission. It should be a part of everything your company does. That includes hiring practices, company brainstorming meetings and the organizations and charities your company supports.

When DEI efforts are reactionary (say, a business settles a discrimination lawsuit then creates a program), employees will see through the motivation behind the program. Glassdoor’s Mission & Culture Survey 2019, a study of more than 5,000 respondents, found 79 percent of respondents would consider a company’s purpose and mission before they applied for a job. Nearly three-quarters said they wouldn’t apply to a business unless the company values were similar to their own personal values.

Your DEI efforts must be visible and consistent throughout the organization.

How to fix it: From reducing unconscious bias in the hiring process to promoting diverse talent from within to fill leadership roles, there are ways to implement DEI throughout your operations. Some elements to include in a diversity program are:

  • A thorough analysis of your current DEI state and what you need
  • A clear plan for DEI training and programs, including reviews and assessments
  • Defined goals, targets and metrics for how to measure your program
  • A mentoring program to develop career-focused leadership
  • Targeted recruitment to increase the diversity of your workforce
  • Manager(s) for your DEI program and/or a DEI committee

You can state your DEI initiatives on your company website, on social media like your business LinkedIn page and in job descriptions. Celebrate successes by highlighting your corporate culture in marketing materials like YouTube videos and Facebook posts.

3. Resistance to the Program

Most employees want their employers to be inclusive. However, employees may still feel resistance to DEI efforts for a variety of reasons. These may include:

  • They feel the program is a waste of time.
  • They don’t think the program will lead to meaningful change.
  • The program makes certain employees defensive or feel like they don’t need the training.
  • The program could make members of certain groups feel victimized, especially when all program participants aren’t positive about the program.

Interestingly, the Harvard Business Review reports that people who are forced to attend DEI courses may respond with resistance or anger. Afterward, many participants report more animosity toward the groups that were the subject of the training.

How to fix it: There are several ways your business can increase acceptance among employees for DEI efforts. One is to explain the why behind your program and/or training. Present data and stats. State your goals with the program. Make every employee feel like a valuable contributor to your efforts.

You could also create more flexibility with your programs. Maybe you create a menu of ways employees can get involved, like specific training programs to take in person or online, community events to participate in, etc. By giving employees more of a choice in what they devote their time to, they’re in control.

You may also conduct a survey of employees to gather feedback on what types of DEI programs they want to see. Share the results of the survey to inform your workforce why you’re introducing certain initiatives. Then they can see you’re acting on their feedback.

4. Impersonal Approaches

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for DEI success across all industries and types of businesses. What works for a high-tech firm whose current workforce is mostly middle-aged men may not translate to a retail corporation whose majority workforce is young females.

You can certainly gain inspiration from DEI successes. But you must tailor your program to your current workforce and industry in order for people to be receptive about your program.

How to fix it: Get employee input for what they want from a DEI program. Use a needs assessment to see what goals your program should have. Then ask employees for suggestions and types of programs they want to see implemented.

Keep your company culture in mind when identifying:

  • Trainers (external, in-house, etc.)
  • Training methods (live sessions versus on-demand remote, for example)
  • Subjects to focus on
  • Program type (training, community service, DEI councils, resource groups, etc.)

Even companies with strong DEI programs can find ways to improve. For example, say a company has already found success by presenting workshops and training sessions and naming a VP of DEI. The company could improve DEI initiatives by choosing to diversify employee benefits, by offering parental leave or floating religious holidays, for example.

Need Help with Your DEI Program?

Most companies face DEI program challenges. These include employee sentiment about the programs, ineffective measurement techniques and lack of buy-in.

If your company finds it difficult to implement a successful DEI program, you may want to consult with a DEI professional. An outside perspective from a professional who’s versed in DEI best practices may help.

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4 Reasons Why Workplace Diversity Programs Fail

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Learn about four common challenges diversity, equity and inclusion programs face. Get tips for how to address each issues in your business.