It's no secret that DEI programs have been failing to meet expectations. Public opinion has drastically shifted regarding DEI initiatives, and although conversations around DEI have been negatively exacerbated by government and public officials, organizations and their leaders have been dropping the ball when it comes to assisting in the creation of DEI strategies that are effective.
Allow me to share a little bit about my background: Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work in the field of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as a DEI representative. My journey has consisted of working in organizations, alongside some exceptional leaders who held admirable intentions for advancing DEI initiatives. However, despite our best efforts, we faced challenges in achieving the desired impact. Reflecting on my experiences, I have developed a few insights as to why these challenges may have arisen:
Issue #1: Organization Leaders have separated themselves from DEI
DEI is a top-down issue. It aims to address systemic issues within organizations caused by inequities created through white supremacy, hetero-superiority, male dominance, and just plain ignorance of the different dimensions of identity. In order for DEI initiatives to truly be effective, they will require ongoing, genuine commitment and support from organizational leaders. When leaders do not prioritize or actively champion DEI efforts, it can undermine the effectiveness of the programs. By actively engaging in and supporting the initiatives, leaders demonstrate their commitment and values for DEI, thus sending a powerful message to employees that DEI is a priority for the organization.
Issue #2: DEI representatives often lack any real power to make change
While DEI representatives are often tasked with leading diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, they frequently find themselves in positions where their ability to enact meaningful change is severely limited. This lack of power stems from various factors. Firstly, DEI representatives are often positioned as figureheads without the necessary decision-making authority to implement effective strategies. They may face resistance from other stakeholders who prioritize maintaining the status quo or view DEI efforts as secondary to the organization's core objectives. Additionally, DEI representatives may lack the support of senior leadership, leading to a lack of accountability and commitment to the necessary systemic changes. Without the authority and support to influence policies, practices, and culture, DEI representatives are left with a merely symbolic role, unable to address the root causes of inequity within the organization.
To overcome this challenge, organizations must embed DEI representatives in the power structure by giving them a seat at the decision-making table. Only when DEI representatives are granted the power and authority to drive substantive change can organizations truly make progress toward their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.
"DEI representatives are often positioned as figureheads without the necessary decision-making authority to implement effective strategies."
Issue #3: Organizations Are Not Dedicating the Proper Resources to DEI
DEI programs struggle when organizations do not give adequate resources to support their implementation. Adequate resources should be allocated to in-depth education initiatives, diversity recruitment efforts, employee resource groups, and ongoing equity evaluations to ensure that all business processes are equal and fair for all employees.
Issue #4: Some Organizations Have Forced a Superfical Approach to DEI Initiatives
Many organizations secretly lack trust in DEI, thus making it nearly impossible to implement lasting change. This lack of trust often extends to the representatives hired by organizations to promote and implement DEI strategies. Many organizations are hesitant to fully embrace and empower these individuals, fearing that their focus on equity might disrupt established norms or lead to preferential treatment. This apprehension can stem from a reluctance to acknowledge systemic biases and an unwillingness to address uncomfortable truths.
DEI is more than a “feel good” initiative. It's more than monthly heritage celebrations. DEI should be aimed at addressing the underlying systemic and structural issues that perpetuate inequities. It is important to go beyond representation numbers and examine the policies, practices, and power dynamics within an organization to create meaningful and lasting change.
"It is important to go beyond representation numbers and examine the policies, practices, and power dynamics within an organization to create meaningful and lasting change."
Issue #5 DEI Initiatives are Lacking Community Buy-In
Community is very important when creating DEI initiatives. Employees may disengage from DEI initiatives if they feel their voices are not heard or if they perceive them as ineffective. Employees should be in the design, implementation, and evaluation of all DEI programs. Creating opportunities for open dialogue, feedback, and employee resource groups that include communities of leaders and team members can help foster a sense of ownership and inclusivity.
Without a comprehensive and holistic approach, focusing on systemic change, education, and fostering inclusive cultures, DEI initiatives will continue to fall short of their intended goals. It is imperative for all stakeholders to come together, reevaluate their strategies, and collaborate to create meaningful and sustainable change in order to truly address the pressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Remember, achieving meaningful and sustainable DEI progress requires ongoing commitment, open dialogue, and collective efforts from all members within an organization.
“If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice.”
— bell hooks