When it comes to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), we all want to champion it and successfully empower our workforce through well-thought-out strategies and initiatives. But diversity is a sensitive topic, it’s emotionally and politically charged and there can be negative consequences to saying the wrong thing. This has colored the entire approach to so many enterprises’ EDI initiatives, leading to paralysis by analysis and a resounding silence out of fear of saying the wrong thing and impacting the productivity of your current workforce, your ability to hire in the future, your reputation in the market and even your stock prices.
But so many companies want to do the right thing for EDI, LinkedIn’s research showed that between 2015-2020 the number of people with the title, Head of Diversity, increased by 50% and Director of Diversity increased by 75%, and Chief Diversity Officer by 68%. However, 27% of Chief Diversity Officers still have to defend and justify equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace. For many reasons, EDI is still a very uncomfortable topic in the workplace. This is offset and made worse by the fact that there is still so much work to be done to create truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplaces and workplace cultures.
As leaders, we need to be at the forefront of our EDI efforts, we need to be visible and audible champions for it and clearly communicate our commitment to it. I know this opens you up to potential criticism, being taken out of context, misunderstood, or misconstrued, but the benefits of showing your employees that you want to learn and that you want to be an ally far outweigh the risks.
While many leaders are working hard to create top-down, authentic change, we also need to be upfront about our shortcomings. Where have we failed? What did we learn? How will we change our approach next time to do better? Analyzing where we have failed in the past, what the response was, etc. will allow us to create better EDI policies and strategies going forward.
Common Problems Enterprises Experience with EDI
From my own experience creating EDI policies for my company, and providing RPO strategies and support for Pierpoint clients’ EDI policies, it is not easy. While every enterprise and organization is different and their failures and successes will be informed by individual company cultures, some of the common problems EDI initiatives face are:
Pushback or Resentment from a Wider Workforce
EDI initiatives often spark pushback from the wider workforce because its aims are broad while the scope is limited. EDI is typically aimed at women, black and minority members of the workforce and seeks to homogenize other groups.
While it is indisputable that the majority of businesses and organizations in the USA (and in many places around the world) need to provide better career progression, visibility, and support for their female, black, and minority ethnic employees, there also needs to be an acknowledgment that not all socially-dominant groups have the same experience or the same perceived privileges. This is often where and why we see pushback from EDI initiatives within a workforce. EDI policies become representative of an attempt to blame and shame and pose a ‘threat to the self-identity’ of your employees as good people, hard-working, valuable members of the workforce on the grounds of their skin color and assumed racist opinions.
Silence from HR on Microaggressions and Tensions
Linked to the situation above, tensions arise and microaggressions can emerge in frustration. The heightened emotional charge from both sides means that often HR does nothing to address the situation for fear of making damaging accusations.
Alienation of Marginalized Groups
EDI policies and initiatives, although well-meaning, can shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the people you are trying to give greater equity and inclusion. This can actually work against your intentions of inclusivity and create alienation of marginalized groups instead.
It would be easy to say “Well, any EDI policy is better than no policy” and never seek to address the common mistakes above. But by being open with your workforce, coming from a place of empathy and authenticity, you can create EDI strategies that truly integrate and empower the diversity of your employees.
Addressing Your EDI Failures for Successful Future EDI Initiatives:
As leaders, addressing EDI shortfalls is a very challenging prospect. Again, tensions are running high, the possibility for criticism and scrutiny is even higher, and many would be tempted to ignore these. But your efforts are invaluable to the cause. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable truth and turn your failures into success by:
Reviewing Your Current Program
Think holistically about your company’s current EDI policy. Ask yourself, does it work? How was it communicated? What did it encompass? What was the timeline for execution? Who was leading it? Was it in reaction to anything (like a major event)? How is it measured?
Think critically about its format, how far did it penetrate into your company culture? Many organizations focus their efforts on recruitment to boost diversity with bias training and quotas to hit. However, new studies suggest that unconscious bias training raises awareness but does nothing to correct behavior or attitude, instead training should educate about certain social privileges and microaggressions
Communicate Your Analysis to Your SLT and Ensure Buy In
As a leader, you set the tone for your organization, and your Senior Leadership Team (SLT) should understand your strategies and be bought in to ensure thorough top-down penetration.
Build Empathy through Awareness Initiatives
If you’re experiencing pushback from your wider workforce and that’s impacting the full potential of your EDI initiatives, look to create programs that underpin an empathic approach. Look to tackle all areas such as leadership, recruitment, culture, promotion, training, parenting and caregiving, and work environment/practices so that everyone understands the need for EDI efforts, and everyone is bought into the benefits of it.
Blend Internal and External Support
Having internal support systems that create EDI champions and advocates is great, but they work better when enhanced with external support. HR can only do so much and while they’re fabulous for shaping culture and driving strategy, for great training on EDI, stereotypes, privilege systems, empathic workplace practices, etc., you need to look for external support from experts.
Build in the Right Analytics to Monitor Progress
Tracking your EDI progress means more than measuring diversity. It means continually monitoring employee satisfaction across the board to really measure and assess inclusivity and equity. Include employee feedback systems in lots of different formats so that everyone can use a communication channel that makes them feel safe, supported, and heard.
Recognizing where we’ve gone wrong or acknowledging where we could have been more thorough is a crucial part of creating truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplaces, as is using that analysis to drive our future strategies.
Ultimately, we need to understand why we weren’t able to build a truly EDI-compliant Rome on the first try. Learn fast, pivot, and reimplement an improved strategy. EDI should be a long-term strategy and not a quick fix, take your time, be a vocal and visible ally, and keep on trying.
Alyssa is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pierpoint. She plays a key role in the continued growth and overall business strategy. Her people-first approach builds loyalty, resulting in 94% client retention for Pierpoint. During her 20+ years in recruitment, Alyssa delivered talent solutions that increased revenue growth for Fortune 500 companies worldwide. She is an ambassador for EDI with a passion for helping businesses and people reach their full potential.
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