Why Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Fail – and How To Do Things Differently

In our previous posts, we talked about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the business value it brings, and how some businesses are doing it well. There’s another issue to discuss here, however.

Why diversity initiatives fail

That’s the fact that so many diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs fail. What is it about these programs and strategies that aren’t working? Is it just something employees can’t be trained on, or are they not being trained in the right ways?

Top Reasons Diversity and Inclusion Aren’t Working

When it comes specifically to training, the following are some of the biggest likely reasons it’s not working as it stands currently:

  • When companies create diversity and inclusion training, it feels like they’re doing it to check a box. They’re not specifically linking training with organization objectives. There is no business connection, and there’s no real indication of how the training will improve the business. Often diversity training talks in much broader terms that are outside the point of reference for the business itself. For example, the training will discuss the world and the population, but not employees and customers of the specific business. It’s so global that it doesn’t resonate well with employees. Instead, it seems like they’re learning about distant, abstract concepts that have little to nothing to do with the jobs they’re doing on a daily basis.
  • Diversity training also fails when it doesn’t seem like it’s something the entire organization is proactively focusing on. This is another case where this kind of training can feel like it’s being implemented to check the boxes, but not as a real part of the workplace. Corporate leaders need to be accountable for their role in increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The entire organization needs to be structured around these concepts as priorities. For example, are there teams in place that focus on improving diversity and inclusion? Are there performance goals and metrics related to these areas? Where do not just employee but organizational improvements need to be made?
  • A third big reasons diversity and inclusion training is ineffective is because it doesn’t make a distinction between key concepts, and instead treats them all the same. There are tremendous differences between equal opportunity employment, diversity, and inclusion as examples. Diversity refers to the people who work in an organization, inclusion is about how diversity is used and managed to strengthen the organization, and equal employment opportunity is more about data and reporting for federal agencies. All of the individual areas of diversity and inclusion need to be addressed separately and distinctively in training.

Some other possible reasons for the failure of training in these areas include:

  • All initiatives related to diversity and inclusion seem to be focused on the HR department. That’s fine to an extent, but human resources isn’t necessarily where large organizational and cultural changes originate. There can be a real disconnect if diversity and inclusion stay siloed within the human resources department. Diversity and inclusion should be part of much broader organizational strategies and should be looked at as a key advantage for a business.
  • When businesses are designing initiatives and training employees, they need to identify specific, measurable outcomes they hope to achieve by improving in certain areas. For example, if the hope is that by improving overall inclusion and allowing more employee voices to be heard, respected and included in big conversations that the business will be able to create a more diverse customer base, then use this as a guiding tenet of inclusion training. Also, make sure to set measurable goals to determine ROI on initiatives and training.
  • Some well-intentioned organizations may only put any effort on diversity and inclusion training as a way to be compliant or to gain some type of Again, this is never going to be the right method to fully gain the benefits of a truly diverse and inclusive company.

The Issue of “Force-Feeding”

Finally, the Harvard Business Review had an interesting piece focusing on why, despite new advancements in training and big data, diversity and inclusion efforts continue to fail. The conclusion from the article? People feel like their employer is trying to control them with many of the training efforts they use. Specific examples from the article include:

  • A lot of executives think they can simply ban bias and that’s the going to offer the outcomes they need and want. There are sets of do’s and don’ts employees are trained on, and they’re supposed to follow them, and that’s the end of the conversation. Unfortunately, this approach provides for no motivation on the part of employees. There’s also a sense with this kind of training that there’s a lot of blame being passed around, and employees are being shamed into doing what employers want them to. Shaming employees is never going to lead to positive results, and more often than not, things are going to get worse after this type of training.
  • Diversity training and bias training are completed as if employees are on auto-pilot. They know the right answers, but that’s not necessarily something they’re going to then incorporate into their daily life at work. Studies show positive effects from bias training hardly last for more than a day in most cases. In some cases, it can even have the opposite effect by sparking bias.
  • When training is mandatory, it often evokes feelings of anger and resentment. Participants who participate in mandatory training tend to report having more animosity towards other groups when they finish this type of training. Despite the negative effects of mandatory training, it’s something so many businesses still do. There’s the feeling of “do this training, or you’re fired,” and employees don’t respond well.
  • Another specific reason training can fail is because it’s used to deal with a problem, rather than being proactive. If there are complaints, then there may be new mandatory training, so it’s always framed as a punishment rather than an opportunity.

Are these the only reasons diversity and inclusion training don’t work? No, but they are some trends that are almost always recognized in businesses struggling in this area. Read on to our next post on how to create a modern, effective diversity and inclusion strategy and how to implement it through effective training.

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