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Diversity Assessment: 8 Program Approaches Destined For Failure


Well-intentioned leaders often enlist the help of consultants to facilitate diversity assessments, diversity and inclusion presentations, workshops and computer-based training.  Education is the foundation, but a strategy is expected. There are a lot of best practices for building a diversity strategy. However, there are a few common mistakes that are worth noting. 

Here are eight questions the leadership teams need to explore if your diversity program isn’t performing to expectation:

1. Has senior leadership really stepped up?

Well-intentioned executives, often people seen as the beneficiaries of many areas of privilege, push diversity efforts into human resource functions or charge frontline workers with design and implementation of grassroots efforts. In my experience, the leader himself does not feel comfortable being the spokesperson for diversity and is trying to create what he believes will be more authentic inroads. Though this reasoning sounds honorable, it totally misses the mark.

2. Is the “grassroots” approach considered the answer?

Leaders’ intentions are typically honorable: to empower people who feel the most voiceless.  Instead, they abdicate responsibility for pushing change that is core to our shared organizational values. Would any other core value or strategic imperative be handed over to grassroots efforts rather than driven by the senior leadership team with clear performance expectations and accountability for progress tied to every business leaders’ portfolio?

3. Is diversity really a core business value?

We have diversity-theme months, multicultural potlucks, and targeted marketing programs to increase patronage by a specific demographic. Employee resource groups meet after working hours, on limited budgets and they are spending a lot of time figuring out how they can make themselves relevant to the parent organization. Diversity activities that sit on the margin of organizational strategy, health and relevance send a clear message of second-class citizenship. It’s an afterthought. Further, the very people you’re trying to win over know this, too.

4. Have you made the necessary investment in awareness?

The desire to focus on programs, services, and representation without investing in awareness and mindset shift is what got us in our current mess. The justification has been  “we are biased to act” or “want measurable progress towards goals”, etc. The lack of willingness to reflect on our personal biases, assumptions, and paradigms that we operate and lead within, has finally caught up with us — in a major way. Why do you think the whole country was blindsided by the 2016 presidential election results? It’s because we didn’t know what was on each other’s minds, really.

5. Is strategy not tied to the reward systems in the organization?

First, HR functions within most organizations are not held in the same esteem as business units. To speak more candidly, business unit leaders hold the budgets. They are the means to organizational profit. HR does not typically report directly to the CEO. Hiring and promotion may be coordinated within HR, but the actual hiring decisions are often made by the business unit leader.

6. Are you managers qualified to execute?

Regardless of the personality, skills or styles of your managers, leaders have the ability to shape the process. And EQUITY LIVES IN THE PROCESS. So, become more intentional about setting and communicating expectations with managers. Make sure they understand clearly that performance is judged on how well they cultivate every member of their teams. Provide them with talking points that reflect principles and behaviors aligned with your equity, diversity and inclusion goals throughout the organization.

7. Are you taking a systematic approach?

Offering piecemeal activities and programs, like developing new recruitment pipelines, high-potential employee retention programs or launching business resource groups without allocating adequate resources to fund and oversee these activities, is the kiss of death. It feeds the desire for short-term metrics but they are reflecting the wrong data. Furthermore, the lack of impact of these efforts on the larger organizational climate (vis-à-vis engagement surveys) becomes even more frustrating after years of investing resources without seeing very little if any ROI.

8. Are your teaching new dogs old tricks?

Over three decades ago Anne Wilson Shaef, author of Women’s Reality, coined the phrase “the White Male System” as the invisible framework within which we all operate, are judged and seek rewards. This framework, regardless of how you name it, is at the very heart of ongoing barriers to truly create equitable environments. We all perpetuate the White Male system, often to our own detriment. It is critical that we acknowledge and begin to challenge the prevailing framework if we are ever to have outcomes that differ from those we have experienced thus far.

The bottom line is that getting diversity “right” is complicated. However, if you want to increase the success of your diversity efforts, try examining the elements of your own program.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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