Why Diversity and Inclusion Plans Fail and How To Avoid These Pitfalls


According to a recent Time magazine article, for most of its history, diversity training has been pretty much a cudgel, pounding white men into submission with a mix of finger-wagging and guilt-mongering. “Many interpreted the key learning point as having to walk on eggshells around women and minorities–choosing words carefully so as not to offend. Some surmised that it meant white men were villains, still others assumed that they would lose their jobs to minorities and women, while others concluded that women and minorities were simply too sensitive,” executives Rohini Anand and Mary-Frances Winters noted in a 2008 analysis of diversity training in the Academy of Management Learning & Education.

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev with Harvard Business Review, state equality isn’t improving in financial services or elsewhere. Although the proportion of managers at U.S. commercial banks who were Hispanic rose from 4.7% in 2003 to 5.7% in 2014, white women’s representation dropped from 39% to 35%, and black men’s from 2.5% to 2.3%. The numbers were even worse in investment banks (though that industry is shrinking, which complicates the analysis). Among all U.S. companies with 100 or more employees, the proportion of black men in management increased just slightly—from 3% to 3.3%—from 1985 to 2014. White women saw bigger gains from 1985 to 2000—rising from 22% to 29% of managers—but their numbers haven’t budged since then. Even in Silicon Valley, where many leaders tout the need to increase diversity for both business and social justice reasons, bread-and-butter tech jobs remain dominated by white men.


Despite some failures, diversity and inclusion are two key elements that every workplace strives to incorporate into its culture. After all, every employee wants to be in an environment where not only their voice but the factors that set them apart, can shine and contribute to something bigger.  Here are two quick tips for creating a successful diversity and inclusion program.

1.     Start some form of unconscious bias training – Most of us have heard about the incident at Starbucks where two black men were inappropriately arrested. Starbucks announced they were closing there 8,000 stores to give unconscious bias training. While many people have differing opinions, I think this a good thing if done correctly.  The training should highlight that unconscious bias creeps into all aspects of our lives and decision-making, not simply in ways that negatively impact diversity and inclusion efforts. Remind people that we have a bias because we are people, but that does not justify any particular stereotypes they may have. Also, make sure that unconscious bias revolves around there day-to-day work. Research shows that when information is presented in a way that is linked to our current schemas, we are better able to remember it. Finally, discovering of one’s own culture and the potential biases one may have toward others is the first step toward improving your effectiveness with diverse colleagues and customers. But it’s not enough.

2.     Focus on inclusion and diversity will come - When people are allowed to be their authentic self, have a voice and seat at the table (inclusion), while knowing there are systems in place to make sure everyone has equal opportunity to succeed (equity), an organization will be able to attract people from all walks of life. (Diversity). Inclusion is the only scalable way to build diversity within an organization. Without thoughtful and deliberate discussion and action to cultivate an inclusive environment, all the energy, and resources spent on recruiting a diverse workforce are for naught. The employees, so painstakingly recruited, will be gone within three months. Diversity is a byproduct of having a strong inclusive and equitable culture.

Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic in the corporate world. Many CEO believes in their hearts that the implementation of diversity and inclusion strategy will make the company better inside and a more competitive outside. Done right it absolute will accomplish these goals, but creating an inclusive culture does not happen overnight, it is a journey. It will take the effort of a thoughtful and committed community of diverse individuals with engaged senior leadership.

Are you wondering how you on how create diversity and inclusion initiative at your organization? Check out workshop: How To Build A Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan Using Human Centered Design!