This is the second part of a two-part article aimed at describing why diversity training initiatives are lacking in effectiveness. If you haven't gone through the first part, you can find it here. In this blog post I will cover additional reasons that diversity initiatives beyond training commonly fail:
1. Leaders don’t listen to their people. It’s telling when organisations roll out “listening sessions” after a troubling event. This raises two questions: (1) Why weren’t leaders already listening? (2) What is going on in the culture - driven by leadership - that prevented people from speaking up before?
2. Leadership assigns D&I training responsibility to HR or those most affected by inequities. Top leaders often turn to the one woman or person of colour on the executive team to solve the problem, or they make it HR’s responsibility. This not only further burdens those who experience the greatest inequities, it reinforces the old-school notion that DEI is only for and about underrepresented groups, instead of being a strategic, business-critical imperative.
3. Leaders want consultants and trainers to do the managers’ job by asking for “training” to rehabilitate a person who is behaving badly at work. This is not a training issue. It’s a leadership and accountability issue that must be dealt with internally. Sending chronically “problem people” to training, or transferring them, is a classic example of “putting glitter on sh*t” and enabling a toxic culture that is allergic to equity and inclusion.
4. Not applying the lens of intersectionality. The concept of intersectionality, which is about how people with overlapping identities experience systems of power and oppression, is not a new framework, yet many companies are still not including the impacts of intersectionality into their D&I programs. Identifying and sharing one's multiple identities can help clarify the ways in which a person can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression, or various forms of disadvantage. For example, a black woman is unlikely to experience gender inequalities in a similar way as a white woman, nor racial discrimination similar to that experienced by a black man.
What often comes to mind when thinking about diversity in the workplace is gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation; but diversity encompasses the infinite range of individuals’ unique attributes, experiences, and abilities. As such, disability, mental health and neurodiversity should also be recognised as a natural part of diversity discourse.
5. The broader culture outside the workplace contradicts or undermines the training content. Societal indifference to derogatory and coded language used by politicians, media, and members of the public to tap into bigoted ideas while denying that is what they are doing strongly undermines the training. The increased presence of hate speech in one's environment creates a sense of a descriptive norm that allows out group derogation. This leads to the erosion of existing anti-discriminatory norms. Finally, through a process of desensitisation, hate speech reduces people's ability to recognise the offensive character of such language in the workplace.
Don't let the opinions expressed in my diversity articles dissuade you from DE&I initiatives. Simply being aware that certain negative patterns have potential to negatively influence on success, can help avoid pitfalls when designing and implementing your own company diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging initiatives.
Faith Kayiwa Nababi is a Leadership Consultant and Intercultural Coach at Tailormade Consultancy, a global service agency that empowers executives to make the best strategic decisions; create value and purpose for the people they lead; and catalyse conscious change.