10 Reasons Your Diversity & Inclusion Efforts May Be Set To Fail

It’s easy to fall into “the flavor of the month” conundrum when launching a diversity & inclusion (D & I ) strategy, especially if the organization fails to build a foundation for sustained success. Every structure must have a foundation and D & I isn’t any different. Therefore, before launching, it’s imperative to avoid common mistakes that may derail your efforts. Below are 10 common mistakes I see companies make that set their D & I efforts up to fail:   

Mistake #1: 

Failing to Establish a Compelling, Relevant and Easy to Comprehend Business Case. Oxford Dictionary defines a business case as: “a justification for a proposed project or undertaking on the basis of its expected commercial benefit.” Organizations who fail to establish diversity and inclusion as a business strategy risk making diversity a nice thing to do instead as a way to sustain the business. Research shows that people get behind strategies when they understand what’s in it for them and what’s in it for the business.  Therefore, if you want buy-in, tie D & I to your business’s sustainability, growth, innovation, performance, top talent, new markets or services, if you expect your people to support it. Your business case for D & I should be about the expected benefit to your business. 

Mistake #2: 

Defining Diversity and Inclusion Narrowly. Simply said, everyone is diverse, every employee, every leader, every peer, every customer and every community member.  There’s also diversity that we don’t see.  Therefore, diversity is about all  people and what they each bring to your organization.  When defining diversity for your organization, everyone must find themselves in its definition, so think broadly and inclusively.  Some may believe that broad definitions water down the impact it may have on underrepresented groups. However, it takes the whole village to make D & I work. The worst thing you can do to hamper your strategy is to be exclusive in the name of inclusion. Everyone must be in it. 

Mistake #3: 

Top Leaders Lack of A Demonstrated Commitment. In my experience, most leaders support diversity and believe in inclusion. However, to demonstrate that commitment you have to prove it daily. Therefore, actions speak louder than statements. You have to communicate the commitment often, and keep it front of mind when you’re acting out your leadership duties. People believe in what you do, so connect your efforts with the D & I commitment and be sure to communicate it so everyone knows that you stand behind your words.

Mistake #4: 

Failing to Give D & I Adequate Funding, Resources and Accountability. Every strategy requires adequate resources and accountability to carry it forward. Those resources and accountability may come in the form of human capital, financing and funding, materials and tools, outside expertise and leadership. Dedicated resources allow your D & I strategy to blossom into a key business strategy and accountability holds people to the commitment. Nothing fizzles out a strategy faster than lack of support to hold it up. Put your money and resources where your mouth is to see long-term results.

Mistake #5: 

Failing to Connect D & I To The Bottom Line.  They say “what gets measured gets done”. I say, “what makes money gets support”. If you want your stakeholders to support D & I, connect it to the financial performance of your organization. If your constituents can’t see a clear line of sight from D & I to the bottom line, your leaders won’t treat it as a business strategy. Therefore, it will lose the buy-in and support required to carry it forward. If you can’t see how D & I makes your company grow or sustain, it’s not a key business strategy.

Mistake #6: 

Not Holding Everyone In The Organization Accountable For Its Success. Everyone in your organization should be held accountable for D & I at your company. Accountability should be clear, tracked and in writing based on roles and level in organization. If people don’t know what role they play or how they contribute to its success, it’s difficult to get the support to move the agenda. All employees should have an opportunity to participate and/or contribute in the commitment and see how they impact its success. 

Mistake #7:

Not Selecting The Right Metrics To Track Progress, Results and Success. D & I will die if it’s left hanging out on its own. It must be tracked alongside other business metrics for sustainability. Therefore, connect it to the organization’s strategic objectives and goals. D & I initiatives must be measurable so that it’s easy to see its impact on the organization’s bottom-line. Consider using common metrics that leaders track frequently or you’ll find that you only visit them once a year. By then, who cares? 

Mistake #8: 

Giving Diversity & Inclusion Leadership As An Added Responsibility To An Already Swamped Leader. Many organizations treat the D & I leadership position or responsibility like a hot potato. They pass the role around like anyone can do it and thus if you’re lucky or unlucky you find yourself holding the potato. I’ve seen so many leaders who have been tapped to be the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) while also holding down other demanding responsibilities. D & I, if treated as a key business strategy, requires a dedicated focus. In many cases the role is given to a leader of color because of race and ethnicity, setting them up to fail if they don’t have the capacity to carry the load. Do yourself a favor, hire an experienced dedicated CDO and give them adequate resources and you’ll see your efforts soar.

Mistake #9: 

Making D & I Just About People Instead of Culture. No matter how much effort, resources and passion an organization puts into its D & I efforts, it will not gain traction without focusing on the organization’s culture. If the culture doesn’t foster and facilitate inclusion, many efforts are in vain. The hard fact is that most company cultures are exclusive. This exclusion in many cases is not intentional. Informal networks, access to information, lack of oversight and outdated practices cause many organizations to unintentionally exclude. To succeed and advance you have to know the unwritten rules, influencers, advancement paths, opportunities for mentorship and sponsors. Don’t look to your mission statement to define your culture. You must look deep below the surface to see the true culture. Analyze your data to see what’s really playing out and where you may be exclusive in practice.

Mistake #10: 

Giving Up On D & I Too Soon. When it comes to any key business strategy, most understand that it’s a long-term initiative. Strategies have both short and long term goals and most plans span 3-5 years or more. D & I strategies shouldn’t be treated differently. I’ve worked with organizations where they spend a ton in resources, expertise and programs to launch a D & I effort just to scrap it when times get tough. It used to break my heart to see great work and passion go to waste. When you commit to D & I, you must commit for the long haul. It takes time to see results and you will lose the support when your people see it as a short term initiative. Results will come if you can have faith and patience.

Launching a D & I strategy is a big job and without an infrastructure for sustainability it often fails to show results. These false starts lead stakeholders in believing D & I is lip service or something that the organization feels it has to do, but doesn’t believe in. Avoid the common mistakes and show your people that D & I is a key business strategy not “the flavor of the month”. 

© 2020, SASHE, LLC Jocelyn Giangrande

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Giangrande is an award-winning diversity and inclusion (D&I) expert known for her strategic approach to cultural transformations, shaping diversity visions and leading the strategic direction of D & I initiatives. Focused on a holistic and integrated approach, her consultations, seminars and trainings are implemented across the country where her thought-provoking D & I Executive Strategy Retreats are “culturally transformational”. With a track record of over 25 years building inclusive cultures that attract, engage, develop and retain talent, this nationally known Cornell University certified diversity expert knows the right questions to ask and has the courage to challenge leaders.

© 2020, SASHE, LLC Jocelyn Giangrande, Use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jocelyn Giangrande and SASHE, LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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