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02 Dec. 2019 | Comments (0)

Many of us are familiar with pervasive D&I breakdowns that complicate our ability to deliver on the promise of diversity and inclusion for individuals, the business, and broader society. You can read more on the D&I Dirty Dozen, but I want to highlight a few of these in an exploration of how we can start to change the conversation about D&I.

Breakdown: Require unreachable business case

Often, we see business leaders demanding unreasonably stringent business case before they decide to act on D&I. A business case for D&I is critical. In fact, as I’ve frequently asserted, we must align D&I with the business or we risk falling short of the promise of D&I and positioning D&I as optional or dispensable when times are tough. However, what doesn’t make sense is holding D&I to a higher standard than we do for other functions.

Breakdown: Expect ROI without investing

In many organizations, D&I has little to no dedicated budget, leaving leaders with the challenge of begging for money from other functions. This challenge can also be observed in the relatively common practice of leaving the work of D&I to Councils, ERGs/ BRGs or other volunteer groups. This put significant additional demands on people who have full time jobs and who often don’t have a background in effective D&I strategy.

Breakdown: Declare best practices despite suboptimal results

Too often, we hear business leaders declare a D&I approach a best practice, even when it  fails to deliver optimal results. In absence of stronger solutions, inadequate “best practices” can rapidly proliferate as organizations benchmark against one another. While often employed with good intentions, these ineffective D&I tactics waste resources, mislead change agents, and disappoint stakeholders.

Breakdown: Assume results will take generations

It’s a common refrain in D&I that results will take time, and it can be easy to resign ourselves to this. Certainly, our work requires us to navigate complex organizational and human dynamics and stubborn systemic barriers. But we cannot be complacent. Organizations are capable of rapid fundamental shifts when they recognize the value of change and commit adequate resources. Consider safety.

These threats to D&I can be observed across industries and sectors and around the world. But there are some relatively simple ways to start changing the conversation about D&I in ways that help us to overcome these breakdowns.

When asked for the business case for D&I, change the conversation by responding: “What is your business case for homogeneity, inequity, and exclusion?”

We know D&I is both the right thing to do and that it’s smart business. When we bring together a mix of perspectives within an inclusive setting, we have a distinctive opportunity to produce the progressive solutions and innovations businesses need to deliver for stakeholders (How Diversity Makes Us Smarter). There are mountains of evidence for how D&I benefits business. We need to spend less time advocating for the value of D&I and more time delivering on it. 

When leaders say D&I is a priority, ask: “Can I see your D&I budget, headcount, and experts assigned to this work so I can really understand your priorities?”

This simple question helps you quickly separate the rhetoric from the reality. If your organization says it values D&I, but provides a scarce budget, relies on volunteers, and/or lacks the expertise required to really deliver, they are not treating D&I as a priority. Without the necessary resources, D&I efforts will be severely limited and could even backfire, as employees recognize the commitment as hollow.   

When initiatives aren’t generating results, ask: “When are we going to let go of this practice and replace it with a fresh approach that works?”

As I’ve discussed in earlier blog posts for  The Conference Board's Human Capital Exchange, we need to interrogate the common, “best practices” of D&I. What is tradition or common in the field is not necessarily what delivers results. As we recognize D&I as a key business enabler, we need to ensure that our resources are going to what works. That means we must be wiling to let go of what doesn’t, and to actively pursue what does. 

When you hear D&I is a journey that takes generations, ask: “Why we are more patient for D&I than we are for other priorities? How will we innovate for faster, better impact?”

D&I is too important to wait for someday. We need D&I to deliver now. Our challenges are significant, but that means we need to devote our energy and minds to collaboratively building fresh solutions. We can do better, and that starts by rejecting calls for patience.

As we endeavour to deliver on D&I, let’s start by changing the conversation on D&I.

  • About the Author:Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a Senior Fellow in Human Capital and Program Director, providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. Rebekah supports a broad spectrum of D&I …

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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