Harmful mistakes companies make in their DEI efforts

p 1 Too many DEI plans are ineffective. Here are 4 ways companies can ensure progress

By Michael V. Nguyen 5 minute Learn

On one hand, that is definitely a welcome improvement since lack of DEI (variety, fairness, and inclusion) in the enterprise world reinforce systemic inequalities and injustices. These inequalities are what sparked the protests in the primary place.

Alternatively, it additionally presents a possible downside in that too many variety applications initiatives are carried out in ways in which not solely result in subpar outcomes however may cause extra hurt.


To keep away from these pitfalls, companies have to develop higher consciousness and sensitivity, and that may solely be carried out by first gaining a clearer understanding of what these pitfalls are.

Specializing in the “D” in DEI

A standard mistake many organizations make is to expressly give attention to the “D” in DEIB. Adopting simply this restricted view, management groups give attention to solely what’s outwardly seen or compositional variety, so the numeric and proportional illustration of various teams inside a corporation.

This type of effort is finished extra by prioritizing job purposes submitted by a number of goal teams, adopted by emphasizing hiring folks from these teams. It’s not that that is improper in itself. “D” is a element of “DEIB,” in spite of everything. The issue is when companies give attention to this to the exclusion of the opposite elements that make up DEIB (the “fairness, inclusion, belonging”). Relatedly, if we’re utilizing the choice the JEDI acronym, we’d additionally use a “J” for “justice.”

A part of the issue with specializing in simply the “D” (and there are a lot of issues with it) is that it creates the outward phantasm of fairness and inclusion.

To raised illustrate this idea, consider an iceberg. Ninety % of it’s underwater and never instantly seen. If “variety” is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, then “fairness,” “inclusion,” and “belonging” are the opposite 90% beneath the water. Sadly, appearances aren’t solely deceiving, they’re additionally very highly effective. Persons are not conditioned to look under the floor. However as with bodily icebergs, it’s that which lies past the instantly seen is what ship navigators should fear about. This is among the methods in which DEIB initiatives typically find yourself not simply ineffective however damaging.

Nonetheless, a noticeable lack of seen variety can not less than convey consideration to the actual fact since exterior observers or the workers themselves usually tend to discover. But when a corporation manages to make their workforce seem numerous however, on the similar time, does little for real fairness, inclusion, and belonging, then that is arguably worse than if that they had carried out nothing in any respect for the reason that invisible boundaries and discimination can get hid by the surface-level variety.


Performative DEI and self-serving goals

One thing even worse than focusing completely on the “D” is performative DEIB work, which is equally widespread.

There’s some overlap between performative DEIB work and DEIB work that focuses solely on the “D” in that each are about appearances. However what makes performative DEIB much more dangerous is that underlying the “efficiency” (i.e., diversity-themed events or social media campaigns constructed round hashtags) are self-serving motives rooted in extreme concern for ROI.

This may be extra acceptable if it have been undergirded by substantial work being carried out concurrently in the areas of fairness, inclusion, and belonging. However when carried out with out these issues, performative DEIB reaches an virtually insidious stage of harmfulness in that it creates extra rewards and privileges for the already privileged whereas doing little of substance for the underprivileged. Basically, it’s additional un-leveling an already unlevel taking part in subject.

Lack of shared accountability

One other widespread pitfall is, as an alternative of sharing accountability throughout the group, to put all of the burden of DEIB initiatives on the shoulders of a chief variety officer. Typically, this government could also be a pacesetter who, resulting from their background and expertise, could also be higher suited in a special C-suite function reminiscent of an HR officer. This often happens with Black women, who’re the commonest demographic chosen to function CDO however who, except they’ve a background in DEIB and are given ample sources, typically find yourself burning out.

On the similar time, organizations should take care to not make the other mistake of hiring a white, heteronormative, able-bodied male in the place of CDO. Not solely is that prone to be interpreted in this present day and age as tone deaf, even well-intended white allies can undergo from “advantage blindness,” limiting their effectiveness in a CDO function. Admittedly, there could also be some conditions in which having a white CDO could have some potential advantages so it isn’t a black-and-white problem. However on the very least, a corporation mustn’t go this route with no cautious consideration of its personal distinctive scenario.

The cumulative results of these pitfalls is that even when their intentions are good, organizations typically find yourself reinforcing the present system. A sentiment that’s generally expressed is that the “system is damaged,” however it’s in reality working precisely as supposed, which is to privilege and empower sure teams and marginalize and oppress others. Dismantling and reimagining it, subsequently, is the one possible way that variety initiatives can obtain their purported goals.

None of that is to dissuade organizations from pursuing initiative. These pointers are supposed to assist companies higher perceive that efficient DEIB work isn’t simple and that it isn’t an space the place shortcuts may be taken, not less than not if companies want to make an actual distinction and reside as much as the pledges a lot of them made in 2020. It requires true, honest dedication over the long run.

To once more use the iceberg analogy, any seen DEIB problem that may be recognized is linked to an enormous physique of habits patterns, psychological fashions, and oppressive programs of which 90% is hidden underneath the floor. It’s solely when these programs and their connections to the seen DEIB points on the floor may be recognized that true, lasting options may be developed as an alternative of short-term, reactive options.

Michael V. Nguyen is a professor on the College of Southern California.