The 5 mistakes often made with DE&I initiatives and how to avoid them
It’s been a year of reckoning for individuals and leaders, as they continue to intensify their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. In a February 2021 Korn Ferry survey, 75% of professionals stated that their company has enhanced DE&I efforts during the last year. However, only 19% have ranked those efforts as very effective.
Of course, the reasons why organizations aren’t as diverse, equitable and inclusive varies as much as the organizations themselves. To help you unlock the power of your DE&I initiatives, we’ve identified five classic, but often overlooked, mistakes that organizations make when it comes to implementing a DE&I program.
Mistake #1: Assuming you know the reasons behind DE&I gaps
Don’t assume you know your DE&I gaps without data.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions. For example, thinking that higher female attrition is driven by a lack of work/life balance. However, only after you do a thorough review of interviews and assessments will you see if this assumption is correct, or if other factors, like inadequate people management skills, are at play.
Acting on assumptions often means the “solution” doesn’t fully address the actual issue, leading to wasted time, energy and resources—and no results.
Mistake #2: Going for the ‘easy’ DE&I fix
There is no easy fix for DE&I.
There are certain solutions—like employee resource groups and unconscious bias training —that are seen as leading practices because they have very visible results.
It’s never going to be a mistake to implement these initiatives. The mistake is thinking they will be the ultimate game changer—particularly if implemented without an understanding that these alone can’t bring about transformational and sustainable change.
Without the appropriate processes and reinforcing mechanisms, these initiatives are unlikely to create lasting changes. Organizations need to build a strong DE&I foundation and then create the support systems to embed these practices in order to advance inclusion in the workplace.
Mistake #3: Promising the impossible
By understanding what is and isn’t possible in an organization, leaders can create transparency and buy-in around DE&I goals without alienating people because of unmet expectations.
For example, advancement opportunities—we worked with an organization that found a long tenure and flat structure meant advancement opportunities were rare. Instead, they shifted their employee value proposition focus to professional growth, rather than advancement. The company understood this meant that, while opportunities internally were limited, they were invested in making employees more attractive for other potential employers.
As a result, employees knew what they were opting into: a realistic but inspiring career experience.
Mistake #4: Concentrating on the external DE&I message while neglecting the internal DE&I work
We all know how important walking the talk is. This is even more critical in DE&I, which is so intricately linked with the purpose and values of an organization.
While many organizations do a good job of raising awareness about the value of DE&I to leaders, employees and customers, this is not always matched by the necessary HR practices, governance and accountabilities within the organization.
To live up to the DE&I standards that organizations set forth in their internal and external DE&I messaging, they have to prioritize bringing about change within five strategic DE&I dimensions:
- Risk management
- Talent integration
- Operations integration
- Market integration
Completing a DE&I diagnostic can confirm and pinpoint areas of strengths and vulnerability in each of these dimensions.
Mistake #5: Focusing on representation and not on pipeline
Having diversity on a leadership team is great because it showcases DE&I in a spotlight. Focusing only on leadership representation, however, risks championing symbolic change over substantive change if even greater attention is not given to developing a self-sustaining internal pipeline of truly diverse talent.
Focusing on diversity within your company pipeline is important because even if there are a few C-suite leaders from underrepresented groups, some or all will leave eventually. Without minding the succession pool and ensuring it’s diverse, those most senior roles cannot be replenished organically with more diversity.
By taking a more holistic view of their overall talent systems, organizations can really build DE&I right into its roots. And yes, representation at the top will improve too, but it will be sustainable improvement rather than a symbolic, short-term fix.
So, when it comes to the energy and resources put towards DE&I, it pays to put deep insight and understanding before action in the march towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.