Harmful mistakes companies make in their DEI efforts


p 1 Too many DEI plans are ineffective. Here are 4 ways companies can ensure progress

By Michael V. Nguyen 5 minute Learn

On one hand, that is definitely a welcome growth since lack of DEI (range, fairness, and inclusion) in the enterprise world reinforce systemic inequalities and injustices. These inequalities are what sparked the protests in the primary place.

However, it additionally presents a possible downside in that too many range applications initiatives are carried out in ways in which not solely result in subpar outcomes however may cause extra hurt.


To keep away from these pitfalls, companies have to develop higher consciousness and sensitivity, and that may solely be carried out by first gaining a clearer understanding of what these pitfalls are.

Give attention to the “D” in DEI

A typical mistake many organizations make is to expressly give attention to the “D” in DEIB. Adopting simply this restricted view, management groups give attention to solely what’s outwardly seen or compositional range, so the numeric and proportional illustration of various teams inside a company.

This type of effort is completed extra by prioritizing job purposes submitted by a couple of goal teams, adopted by emphasizing hiring folks from these teams. It’s not that that is flawed in itself. “D” is a element of “DEIB,” in any case. The issue is when companies give attention to this to the exclusion of the opposite components that make up DEIB (the “fairness, inclusion, belonging”). Relatedly, if we’re utilizing the choice the JEDI acronym, we’d additionally use a “J” for “justice.”

A part of the issue with specializing in simply the “D” (and there are lots of issues with it) is that it creates the outward phantasm of fairness and inclusion.

To higher illustrate this idea, consider an iceberg. Ninety p.c of it’s underwater and never instantly seen. If “range” is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, then “fairness,” “inclusion,” and “belonging” are the opposite 90% beneath the water. Sadly, appearances usually are not solely deceiving, they’re additionally very highly effective. Individuals are not conditioned to look beneath the floor. However as with bodily icebergs, it’s that which lies past the instantly seen is what ship navigators should fear about. This is likely one of the methods in which DEIB initiatives typically find yourself not simply ineffective however damaging.


Nevertheless, a noticeable lack of seen range can not less than deliver consideration to the actual fact since outdoors observers or the staff themselves usually tend to discover. But when a company manages to make their workforce seem various however, on the similar time, does little for real fairness, inclusion, and belonging, then that is arguably worse than if that they had carried out nothing in any respect for the reason that invisible obstacles and discimination can get hid by the surface-level range.

Performative DEI and self-serving goals

One thing even worse than focusing completely on the “D” is performative DEIB work, which is equally widespread.

There’s some overlap between performative DEIB work and DEIB work that focuses solely on the “D” in that each are about appearances. However what makes performative DEIB much more dangerous is that underlying the “efficiency” (i.e., diversity-themed events or social media campaigns constructed round hashtags) are self-serving motives rooted in extreme concern for ROI.

This may be extra acceptable if it have been undergirded by substantial work being carried out concurrently in the areas of fairness, inclusion, and belonging. However when carried out with out these issues, performative DEIB reaches an nearly insidious degree of harmfulness in that it creates further rewards and privileges for the already privileged whereas doing little of substance for the underprivileged. Primarily, it’s additional un-leveling an already unlevel taking part in subject.

Lack of shared accountability

One other widespread pitfall is, as a substitute of sharing accountability throughout the group, to position all of the burden of DEIB initiatives on the shoulders of a chief range officer. Typically, this govt could also be a frontrunner who, because of their background and expertise, could also be higher suited in a distinct C-suite function reminiscent of an HR officer. This often happens with Black women, who’re the most typical demographic chosen to function CDO however who, except they’ve a background in DEIB and are given ample sources, typically find yourself burning out.

On the similar time, organizations should take care to not make the alternative mistake of hiring a white, heteronormative, able-bodied male in the place of CDO. Not solely is that prone to be interpreted in this present day and age as tone deaf, even well-intended white allies can undergo from “advantage blindness,” limiting their effectiveness in a CDO function. Admittedly, there could also be some conditions in which having a white CDO might have some potential advantages so it isn’t a black-and-white situation. However on the very least, a company mustn’t go this route with no cautious consideration of its personal distinctive scenario.

The cumulative results of these pitfalls is that even when their intentions are good, organizations typically find yourself reinforcing the present system. A sentiment that’s generally expressed is that the “system is damaged,” however it’s in reality working precisely as meant, which is to privilege and empower sure teams and marginalize and oppress others. Dismantling and reimagining it, subsequently, is the one possible way that range initiatives can obtain their purported goals.

None of that is to dissuade organizations from pursuing initiative. These pointers are supposed to assist companies higher perceive that efficient DEIB work isn’t straightforward and that it isn’t an space the place shortcuts will be taken, not less than not if companies want to make an actual distinction and dwell as much as the pledges lots of them made in 2020. It requires true, honest dedication over the long run.

To once more use the iceberg analogy, any seen DEIB situation that may be recognized is linked to an enormous physique of conduct patterns, psychological fashions, and oppressive methods of which 90% is hidden underneath the floor. It’s solely when these methods and their connections to the seen DEIB points on the floor will be recognized that true, lasting options will be developed as a substitute of short-term, reactive options.

Michael V. Nguyen, PhD, is an academic psychologist and lecturer in the net Grasp of Science in Utilized Psychology program on the College of Southern California.