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5 Reasons Why Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Fail

Pull back the veil of good intentions to discover what diversity and inclusion should really be about: people.
5 Reasons Why Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Fail
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Most diversity and inclusion initiatives look and sound great. They are usually well-meaning, too. But a vast number of these initiatives prove ineffective or fail within a year or two. Why? Start talking to the people who put them together – whether they are diverse or non-diverse, male or female, young or old – and more often than not, you realize that the details and depth of strategic thinking behind them is as thin as the paper they are printed on.

This is not surprising when you consider that most diversity and inclusion initiatives are developed to comply. Whether in a small business or large corporation, these initiatives are usually poorly-funded, tactical inclusion crusade that is disconnected from broader, more substantial, and well-funded general training programs. They may be well-meaning, but most approaches are simply misguided.

They are also often outdated in their ideas, catering to the status quo. They assume existing and potential employees targeted by these programs must change to fit into the current workplace culture. They ask and answer one question: How can we acquire, train, and change diverse employees for them to succeed and thrive in our culture? If we keep asking that question – or any question – over and over again, why should we expect a different result?

What we need to do is reframe the problem. Actually, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the problem starts with using the word “problem.” Diversity and inclusion should be about “opportunity” – specifically growth opportunity.

Here are five reasons diversity and inclusion initiatives fail as a growth strategy:

1. They are stuck in Human Resources

Focusing these initiatives only on recruitment, reputation management, and “checking off the boxes” does not make them bad – just limited. Seeing them as part of HR or Corporate Social Responsibility is even worse. That's how they end up being viewed as cost centers (expenses), rather than as profit centers (investments) to drive influence in the workplace and growth in the marketplace. Where they belong is in the center of the organization.

2. No one knows what opportunity diversity and inclusion solves for

When I ask leaders what their diversity and inclusion initiatives solve for, they often say “diversity and inclusion.” That’s as tautological as you get. You must be able to answer the following question in a few words: Why do people need your plan, and what opportunity it is solving for?

Can you answer this? If you can’t, you will likely end up solving for the wrong things at the wrong time – thus widening opportunity gaps.

3. They are solving for recognition not respect

People invest in respect. But rather than striving for respect from the actual people in the workplace and marketplace, leaders are usually looking for recognition for the diversity and inclusion work they're doing. Their efforts would be much more successful if leaders would stop creating a bunch of programmatic initiatives to serve the company’s needs for compliance and start working to gain that respect by actually listening to people and valuing their unique differences.

4. They think melting pot not mosaic

The days of taking a one-size-fits-all approach are over, never to exist again. Our goal as leaders is to convert the melting pot of differences into a mosaic that fuels strategies for growth, innovation, and opportunity to maximize the full potential of people, brands, and businesses. Diversity and inclusion must be about understanding your identity and the identities of all people. Only then can we be courageous enough to steer away from like-mindedness through assimilating people’s differences (melting pot) and towards like-mindedness through honoring those differences (mosaic).

How well do you practice diversity of thought? Take the following assessment and find out.

5. They fail to move people to the center of the organization’s growth strategy

Diversity and inclusion initiatives often start with the best intentions – valuing individual listening to the unique needs of diverse populations – and that often gets some results. But once they see success, it’s not about inclusion anymore. It’s about just getting out there to sell, sell, sell. Leadership must operationalize diversity and inclusion by moving people to the center of their growth strategy and allowing all employees influence the company’s growth and future.

This is true about all growth strategies today: they are becoming less about the business defining the individual and more about the individual defining the business. You can focus on representation and reputation management and abide by the right metrics, but without thinking about individuals, you are assuming the business defines the individual when the individual should define the business. Through the innovation mentality, we embrace the transparency, trust, individuality, risk, social responsibility, entrepreneurial mindset, passion, and promise to be a community-minded leader in the workplace and much, much more.

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