Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs Fail?

Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs Fail?
A diverse workforce not only strengthens productivity, creativity, employee engagement, and profits but also helps maintain the organizations' reputation.

Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs Fail?

Organizations around the globe have recognized the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workspace. A diverse workforce not only strengthens productivity, creativity, employee engagement, and profits but also helps maintain the organizations’ reputation.  Most organizations use diversity training programmes, often made mandatory, to make improvements in workplace culture. More often, than not, this is met with resistance from employees.

Unconscious, individual bias is a big problem, but unconscious bias training is not addressing it completely. There is no evidence that knowledge about bias results in behaviour change. The design of unconscious bias training does not inspire the type of self-reflection that would be needed to affect behavioural changes. The training may nudge individuals to recognize that they are biased, but often does nothing to motivate people to change or show them what they could do differently to enact more inclusive behaviour and promote a more equitable workplace.

Sandhya attended an interview in an organization where she was expected to lead a team managing technology services for the organization. During the interview, she revealed that she was a single parent. The panel immediately began questioning her on how she would manage late working, who looks after her child when she is at work, what support system she has in place etc.

After the interview, she shared her experience with the HR person who explained to her that the organization was an inclusive workplace and not to get perturbed by the questions. Further probing into the process revealed that the panelists believed that she would not fit the role as, being a single parent, she would not be able to meet the late working schedule that the role demanded. What makes individuals feel that managing a child as a single parent involves more “work” than a couple? This is just one example of unconscious biased behaviour which manifests itself in many organizational situations.

Subtle interventions on self-reflection and therefore an expectation of behavioural change need to be made to change the organization’s culture. Cultural change can be influenced but it is a slow process. To see tangible action, there is a need to collect and collate objective metrics. There needs to be action on the observed metrics. Actions need to be iterative, so they allow companies to try small interventions and then scale them up.

The interventions then need to reflect substantive changes into the basic business systems that perpetuate bias, so they are less likely to disappear when a new leader decides that diversity is not an imperative. Policy changes make organizations change the way they work, these need to be cascaded in the form of best practices for employees to adopt.

Often organizations go about the diversity, equity, and inclusive journey with the right intentions, but they do not yield substantive results. Some of the reasons they fail are as follows :

  1. Failure to establish specific goals for the diversity & inclusion initiatives’ efforts and interventions
  2. Failure to demonstrate sufficient courage to deal with the resistance in the organization and among key stakeholders
  3. Failure to specify both short and long-term diversity and inclusion initiatives goals for the effort
  4. Failure to honestly consider what needs to be done and why
  5. Failure to develop other viable options when plans do not work
  6. Failure to solve problems by seeking “quick fixes.”
  7. Failure to work with the organization as it is, rather than as you would like it to be
  8. Failure to measure or evaluate the activities
  9. Use the usual tools -diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, grievance systems

A number of organizations have consistently got positive results with tactics that do not focus on control. They apply three basic principles: engage managers in solving the problem, expose them to people from different groups, and encourage social accountability for change.

Engaging Managers

When someone’s beliefs and behaviour are not in sync, that person experiences what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” Experiments show that people have a strong tendency to “correct” dissonance by changing either the beliefs or the behaviour. If your managers act in ways that support a particular view, their opinions shift toward that view. When managers actively help boost diversity in their companies, something similar happens: They begin to think of themselves as diversity champions.


A mentor who is a diversity champion is an ideal person to engage managers and chip away at their biases. In mentoring their protégés they help give their charges the breaks they need to develop and advance.

Social Accountability

Encouraging social accountability plays on every persons’ need to look good in the eyes of others. Therefore, in order to look good in a peer group, often diversity principles get more actively practiced than if done individually with no audience.

In my experience, having a specialized role, as a Diversity Manager, boosts inclusion by creating social accountability. When people know they might have to explain their decisions, they are less likely to act on bias. So, often just having someone like a diversity manager who could ask them questions prompts managers to step back and consider everyone who is qualified instead of hiring or promoting the first people who come to mind. 

Diversity managers cost money, but task forces use existing employees, so they are a lot cheaper than some of the things that fail, such as mandatory training. You would be the best judge of what works for your organization but what will work is that you start NOW!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here