Despite the overwhelming evidence indicating that workplaces with more diversity are more profitable and creative, America is experiencing diversity fatigue. People are sick and tired of talking about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Diversity resistance can be an insurmountable impediment to workplace diversity efforts. Diversity resistance can manifest in multiple ways including a refusal to fund DEI efforts, pushback of diversity programs, and a lack of leadership buy-in for DEI initiatives. Why has diversity become a dirty word in American workplaces and how can this issue be overcome?
- Diversity programs often fail. There is evidence that many diversity programs fail. If your organization has fallen into this category, there may be more resistance to DEI efforts. There may also be some doubts regarding whether DEI efforts will produce long-term changes. Before implementing diversity programs into your workplace, be sure you have a strong grasp of what factors lead to success. A Harvard Business Review study found that structuring diversity trainings around relevant workplace situations and scenarios can lead to greater success. There is a wealth of research about what makes diversity programs successful. Consume as much of this research as possible before implementing any DEI programs and also be sure to enlist the help of DEI consultants and practitioners, who have experience developing DEI programs for success.
- Diversity efforts seem inauthentic. What is often seen is organizations making a concerted effort to focus on DEI only after a public blunder or misstep. When companies like Starbucks, Gucci, and H&M found themselves in hot water in recent years, they decided to implement DEI training for their staff. There has been much skepticism regarding the value of short-term training that is proposed as a solution to public DEI mistakes; much of these doubts are backed by research. A 2016 meta-analysis found that DEI trainings that take place over an extended period of time were more effective. DEI should be baked into the fabric of the organization and should not be used as a quick band-aid for public missteps. You should not wait for something to happen before introducing bias workshops and trainings into your workplace.
- Misunderstanding what diversity means. Too often, people conflate diversity with inclusion, when they are two very distinct concepts. Diversity can be thought of as the number of underrepresented minority groups that are working in your organization. Organizational leadership assumes that having diversity is enough but having diversity is just the beginning. Ask yourself this: what are you doing to ensure that everyone feels a sense of inclusion and belonging? It’s not enough to simply get diverse talent in the door—you have to also cultivate an environment where everyone is treated fairly and feels valued if you want employees to stay. Many companies put a focus only on attracting and recruiting diverse talent and then are baffled when there is a revolving door of diverse talent and high attrition. If the expectation is to simply attract diverse talent, then the time and continuous effort it takes to ensure belonging will not be done. This can lead to frustration from diverse talent but also exasperation from management because of a failure to meet unrealistic and inaccurate expectations. DEI is a continuous and ongoing process and takes time and effort to nurture. Ensure that there are clear expectations before implementing any DEI programs to mitigate this issue. Utilizing employee resource groups and mentorship/sponsorship programs can improve retention of diverse talent.
- It requires self-examination. In the workplace, diversity is often associated with terms like unconscious bias, discrimination, racism, and prejudice. No one wants to think of themselves as a ‘bad person’ and for DEI efforts to be fruitful and sustainable, self-examination is required to better understand individual and organizational blind spots. Having conversations about privilege and power and how these factors impact the workplace and contribute to systemic barriers is not a fun conversation. But despite how uncomfortable they may make you; these conversations are a necessary impetus for change. Invite employees to be part of the process and to contribute to organizational diversity efforts. There may be more accountability and buy-in if employees are part of the design process; consider enlisting the help of employees when implementing diversity efforts to reduce resistance.
By: Janice Gassam