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Why Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Don’t Work – and How to Fix It

The U.S. workforce has a diversity problem, especially at the executive level. Only:5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; black women in leadership roles fare even worse.  Why? Diversity and Inclusion programs don’t work because there are no clear action steps for change.  As a leader you must get specific on the behaviors you expect from your team members.  […]

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The U.S. workforce has a diversity problem, especially at the executive level. Only:5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; black women in leadership roles fare even worse.  Why?

Diversity and Inclusion programs don’t work because there are no clear action steps for change.  As a leader you must get specific on the behaviors you expect from your team members.  It’s time to achieve true diversity and inclusion within all of these categories: race, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability, age and work style.

A Diverse Workforce is Good for Business

Why should we model D&I efforts within our organizations?  Because smart leaders know that a diverse workforce is good for business.  It yields:

  • More innovative ideas
  • Higher profits
  • Better employee engagement and retention

Karen Horting, executive director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, notes, “Diversity is not an issue that just affects minorities or women.  Diversity is an issue that affects the entire workforce.” Indeed: a McKinsey study found that racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform their peers by 35%.   

In the 2017 PwC Global Diversity and Inclusion Study, leaders who state their commitment to D&I and actively promote diversity and inclusion at their firms make a big difference. 50% of organizations where diversity is not seen as a barrier to promotions had leaders trained in D&I.  In this way, leaders pave the way for positive change – for both the individuals and overall company.

Joan Williams, professor and the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, concurs:  “If you have diverse workplaces, people tend to be more committed, and they’re also better at solving problems…Well-managed, diverse teams just perform better.”

Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices

As a leader, be clear and specific on the best practices you expect your team members to exhibit. 

D&I Best Practices:

  • In meetings of any size, don’t talk over your female or minority colleagues.
  • Role clarity is key. At the start of the meeting, clearly state the role of each participant. 
  • Include a diverse set of people and viewpoints on all teams.
  • Be clear with HR on what an ideal, diverse talent pool looks like for you.
  • Enact well-defined guidelines on body language (hugs can be especially tricky).
  • Increase your commitment to top-down sponsorship.
  • Tie compensation and promotions to D&I performance.
  • Support employee groups that advocate for positive change.
  • Assume honorable intent – most people want to do the right thing, but lack the necessary knowledge.

As you define and model what inclusive behavior looks like, you set the expectations for the overall culture.  The message filters down the ranks.  Managers below you will be more likely to adopt these best practices, which leads to actual positive change. The result? More diversity at all levels and enhanced company performance.

What Not to Do to Promote Diversity and Inclusion

Don’t force your employees to participate in mandatory diversity training programs.  These one-off programs lead to “diversity fatigue” and feelings of isolation among minorities at your firm.  And, these can increase workers’ paralysis.  Employees, desperate not to offend people who have a different background or viewpoint, end up avoiding them – the very opposite of inclusion. 

Even worse: D&I measures enacted directly after a PR crisis. This can make the initiative feel inauthentic.  Promote a culture of everyday inclusion through routine, specific best practices.

Change Starts with You

Generation Z – those between the ages of 6 and 21 – is the most racially diverse group in the U.S.  As these young people enter the workforce, D&I initiatives will be crucial. 

How do we get from here to there? 

D&I experts often define “diversity” as inviting others to the dance, and “inclusion” as asking them to dance.  

Hiring a woman or a member of a minority or a differently abled person is often not enough. Diverse voices must be heard within the organization.  Too often minority voices and ideas are ignored, muted in meetings, or dismissed.

Why? Because workers don’t know the specific behaviors to support their minority colleaguesYou have the power to change this.

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Ready to explore how we can help you or your organization commit to strong D&I efforts?

Let’s talk.  Schedule a 20-minute call to discuss your needs and determine whether a coaching or consulting program is right for you or your company.

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Carson serves as a consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies. The author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, her views have been included in Bloomberg BusinessweekFast CompanyForbesHarvard Business Review blog, and The New York Times.

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