5 reasons leaders fail to turn DEI rhetoric into action

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In 2022, diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) is not a nice-to-have. According to an recent research95% of CEOs believe that diversity, equity and inclusion should be top priorities for both business and moral reasons. And yet, all too often companies fail to meet their high DEI goals, with the same survey showing that only 44% of the companies surveyed had actually developed a formal, actionable strategy. Why is the increasingly common DEI rhetoric not driving real, lasting change in the workplace?

The answer is not financial. Research has shown that diverse, inclusive teams are more likely to bring forward multiple perspectives, making them more innovative, creative, and better at solving problems in ways that ultimately drive profit. Despite the obvious benefits of investing in DEI (not to mention the ethical arguments for building a diverse, inclusive workplace), many leaders are clinging to the old normal. To deliver on their DEI promises, leaders must first understand where these challenges lie.

1. A cynical workforce

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to implementing DEI initiatives is gaining and retaining employee buy-in across the organization. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall into a vicious circle of cynicism: When a company announces an ambitious plan but doesn’t execute it, employees will naturally question the organization’s willingness and ability to make real change. Employees can become particularly cynical when their employers make self-aggrandizing public statements in the context of movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, but don’t match these outside statements with policies on the ground that actually hold managers accountable. If a company seems only interested in DEI as a marketing strategy, its efforts internally are likely to be met with considerable skepticism, hindering the effective implementation of even the most well-intentioned programs.

Related: Diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives are incomplete without this essential dimension

2. Insufficient measurement systems

“You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” the mantra, often attributed has its limitations, according to influential management thinker Peter Drucker – but effective measurement is certainly necessary when it comes to DEI. Without a defined system for setting clear goals, tracking progress, and awarding rewards such as bonuses and other management and leadership incentives, companies will struggle to make real progress toward their DEI goals.

Importantly, this system cannot exist in a vacuum. For example, many different recruiting initiatives stumble because of the perennial story of meritocracy versus diversity, in which leaders (wrongly) assume that hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds means sacrificing merit-based standards. Research has shown: This simply isn’t true, but defending the case internally requires compelling, well-documented metrics that illustrate the value a diverse and inclusive workforce brings to your organization.

Many leaders get bogged down in the sheer volume of data available. To make true data-driven progress, organizations need to track qualitative metrics such as the number of people hired from various underrepresented groups. They then need to ensure that there is infrastructure and incentives that use the collected data to enable alignment and accountability at all levels of the business.

3. Misalignment of policy

How often do senior leaders really know what’s happening on the ground? Misalignment between top-level guidelines and the realities of the grassroots is common in many areas, but is especially damaging with regard to DEI. In many cases, the well-meaning executives who create DEI policies do not consider the needs of the people these policies are supposed to help, leading to policies that simply don’t work in the real world.

These disconnects can also hinder lower-level employees’ ability to use programs designed to support them, as they may not understand the processes or unwritten rules they must follow. Many employees who may want to contribute to DEI’s efforts are often unable to participate due to misaligned policies.

Another common mode of failure is silo misalignment. When leaders divide responsibility across departments, it increases the risk of poor coordination, duplication of effort, and other inefficiencies. This lack of integration can also leave employees confused about who to approach with problems or concerns, further hindering progress on these already challenging issues.

Related: Why Diversity Matters When Scaling Your Business

4. Closed Culture

Research shows that at least half From harassment and discrimination, complainants experience some form of retaliation – and you can’t solve problems if people are afraid to talk about them. in a open culture, leaders foster a safe environment, where employees at all levels are encouraged to share their input on DEI issues and can be confident that their voices will be heard. In contrast, in a closed culture, dissenting voices are silenced, either through explicit policies or the implicit threat of retaliation.

To be sure, closed cultures are not necessarily anti-DEI. Especially in the wake of horrific news events related to discrimination, it can be tempting to take an aggressive, top-down approach to implementing DEI policies. But this can backfire and create an insidious closed-in culture where employees don’t feel comfortable sharing their concerns or contributing strategies for improvement.

5. Unconscious Bias

It’s (relatively) easy to tackle problems we can see. But what about the ones we can’t see? Many DEI initiatives aim to address explicit biases and systemic inequalities, but it is much more difficult to eradicate the underlying, unconscious biases that cause many of these ongoing problems. Some organizations offer mandatory hiring bias training, but without ongoing coaching on concepts such as unconscious bias, affinity bias, and soft filter criteria, substantive progress is unlikely.

Importantly, many of these unconscious biases relate not only to individuals, but also to the value of DEI itself. Many leaders undermine their own DEI efforts because they see these programs at some level as waste of your time, energy and money. These biases are inherently difficult to spot, let alone eliminate – but to build a truly diverse and inclusive workplace, managers and leaders at every level must work to identify and address the biases that hold them back.

Related: 3 Ways Leaders Can Take Responsibility for Diversity and Inclusion

Now, more than ever, leaders cannot afford to pursue a DEI strategy that is nothing more than a thinly veiled marketing gimmick. According to an recent surveynearly 80% of US employees want to work for a company that values ​​DEI, and more than half of consumers report greater loyalty to brands committed to tackling social inequality.

To match rhetoric and execution, leaders must first understand the barriers facing even DEI’s most well-intentioned efforts. It is only when these challenges are recognized and addressed that real change becomes possible.