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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Roberson

The 7 Reasons Your DEI Initiatives Might Fail

Originally posted on the Mattingly Solutions Blog.

Whenever an organization is making an investment, including in their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, there is always a fear of failure. Unfortunately, it is all too common for these efforts to fall short, often for reasons that are avoidable.

Below are seven common reasons why these DEI initiatives might fail, along with some tips on how to develop successful DEI initiatives in your organization:

  1. Lack of executive leadership buy-in

  2. Lack of DEI metrics for data-driven decision making

  3. Lack of resources for DEI initiatives and champions

  4. Lack of transparency, voice, and thereby trust in organization’s DEI initiatives

  5. Lack of long-term DEI strategy

  6. Ineffective execution, leading to backlash rather than support

  7. Lack of all-inclusive multiculturalism

1. Lack of all-inclusive multiculturalism

One of the most critical reasons that DEI initiatives fall short is because there is a lack of commitment, or buy-in, from the top of the organization. Why is this important? Because if a lower-level employee is unsure of whether to buy in to new DEI efforts, they will look toward the leadership of the organization. If they don’t see that support for DEI there, they are unlikely to put in the effort to move the initiatives forward themselves.

This lack of commitment from leadership can look like surface-level or performative commitment rather than “walking the walk” of being a true DEI champion. One way this performative commitment to DEI becomes apparent is through a lack of measurement of, and investment, in DEI.

2. Lack of metrics for data-driven decision making

One way that a lack of commitment from leadership hinders an organization’s DEI progress is through a lack of DEI metrics. One report found that lacking metrics that identify an organization’s DEI strengths and weaknesses is a top barrier to enhancing DEI, along with lack of executive leader buy-in. Without properly measuring where an organization stands in terms of DEI, it is very difficult to navigate the organization toward positive DEI outcomes. Instead, leading DEI initiatives based on intuition and without proper metrics can actually backfire.

Leaders should not only measure demographic representation within the organization, but also measure whether employees of various backgrounds feel valued, respected, seen and heard. Employees also want to be treated fairly, so conducting thorough equity audits is also essential for striving toward greater DEI. With proper DEI metrics, organizations can be confident in that they’re setting the right DEI goals and making the best investments to achieve those goals.

3. Lack of resources for DEI initiatives

While many organizations fail to utilize proper metrics for DEI, many also lack the proper investment and resource allocation for these efforts. These resources can be financial, such as through funding for initiatives or compensation for employees engaging in DEI efforts. These resources can also include access to time and space needed to do the work, such as planning events within the organization during the workday.

Without the investment of these resources, there is a lack of opportunity to truly commit to the work that needs to be done. Often, DEI requires important changes and action on behalf of the organization, and these changes and actions can require substantial time and resources. Further, a lack of adequate resources can lead to burnout among an organization’s diversity leaders as well as under-funded events and efforts that lead employees to feel the organization is not truly interested in making changes.

4. Lack of transparency, voice, and thereby, trust in organization’s DEI initiatives

Another way a lack of leader commitment may become apparent is through a lack of clarity and transparency regarding the organization’s DEI efforts. Without such clarity and transparency, employees may not trust the organization’s DEI efforts and may feel that the organization is engaging in performative, rather than authentic, DEI efforts. This will lead to less buy-in among the employees.

A lack of transparency may also be tied to a lack of opportunity for employees to share their opinions from the bottom up. If employees don’t feel like the commitment from the top is real, they will not take the time to speak up about what needs to be improved. Further, leaders are unlikely to take the time to truly listen to their employees in organizations that lack transparency. Therefore, they will end up making their decisions based on intuition or reputation, rather than based on data representing the real experiences of those in their organization, leading to misguided DEI initiatives.

5. Lack of long-term DEI strategy

Some organizations may lack transparency because they lack a long-term DEI strategy, which is another critical reason for why DEI initiatives fail. Without a sound DEI strategy, employees may be confused about why they are participating in a particular training or why a long-standing policy may be changing, leading to backlash. Transparency should go hand-in-hand with a clear strategy forward for an organization’s DEI plan.

This strategy should include a long-term vision that aligns with the organization’s mission, values, and culture. It should also include metrics to examine and address change over time as well as both short-term and long-term concrete goals. Read more about the components of an effective DEI strategy here.

6. Ineffective execution, leading to backlash rather than support

Employees are also unlikely to buy into DEI efforts if they are executed in such a way that goes against best practices. For example, making DEI policy decisions based on intuition rather than rooted in measurement is unlikely to be successful, and may even be counterproductive. Initiatives that are hastily created in response to a societal event, or under-resourced due to lack of buy-in from executive leadership can actually do more harm than good for all employees. Therefore, organizations should rely on DEI best practices backed by science in order to avoid the pitfalls of a poorly executed DEI initiative.

7. Lack of all-inclusive multiculturalism

Lastly, it is important to make sure everyone feels that they are included in an organizational DEI initiative. Often, individuals will not actively engage in the effort if they feel that their voice is not being heard, if their identity is not being considered, or if they feel their identity is being attacked. When certain voices are excluded from the conversation, they become disengaged, and even resentful toward DEI activities. That is why it is important to take an all-inclusive multicultural approach, which research suggests can lead to majority group members’ support for organizational diversity efforts.

How to avoid these common DEI pitfalls

These seven reasons are just a few of the most common reasons DEI efforts fall short in organizations. How are a few tips on how you can avoid them?

  • Embrace data!

  • Benchmark your organization’s current state, develop a measurement-based strategy, and continuously measure progress.

  • Integrate your DEI goals with the organization’s business strategy to ensure continuous commitment from all stakeholders.

  • Follow best practices for creating interventions:

  • When thinking about DEI outcomes, focus on both awareness and behavioral aspects. Initiatives shouldn’t just be about providing knowledge but also about the specific inclusive behaviors individuals can enact to improve their organization’s DEI climate.

  • Ensure every intervention is integrated with other DEI efforts through alignment in a strong DEI strategy while avoiding one-off DEI workshops.

  • Take an all-inclusive multicultural approach that explicitly identifies how majority group members can be part of the DEI conversation and promote opportunities for self-affirmation and similarities based on organizational values to reduce the emergence of backlash.

Looking to advance DEI through data-driven insights in your organization? Contact us at Plan to Action today to drive meaningful change, together.

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