Four reasons DEI initiatives struggle to make an impact

To paraphrase a quote that did the rounds in 2020, during lockdown, we often weren’t just working from home: we were living at work. And that meant many people looked inward: reflecting on what they were happy with in their careers, and what needed to change.

Maybe it was re-evaluating what success looks like, or wanting to find more purpose in your role, or working for an organisation that protects your work/life balance.

And now, as we take still-tentative steps out into the world again, these reflections are turning into reality. You don’t need to look much further than the front page of LinkedIn to see how many people are moving roles and posting job vacancies.

Calling it ‘The Great Attrition’ in a recent survey, McKinsey found that 40% of employees are likely to leave their current job in the three to six months. Why? Well, according to 38% of employers, attrition comes down to compensation.

But employees have a very different story to tell.

McKinsey found that 54% of employees leave because they don’t feel valued by their managers. And 51% leave because they don’t feel a sense of belonging at work.

The search for belonging at work

Now, you know as well as anyone that a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace doesn’t start and end with diverse representation.

To show up as their true selves – and essentially, to bring the ideas, creativity, and new ways of thinking that you hired for – your diverse talent needs to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel psychologically safe, supported, and appreciated.

And it’s time to get honest with ourselves: is that really happening? Are DEI initiatives making enough of an impact?

Well, a 2021 report by Green Park found, for the first time since 2014, there were no Black Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers or Chairs within the FTSE 100. And in the US, according to a 2019 Coqual study, Black professionals are nearly four times as likely as white professionals to say they’ve experienced racial prejudice at work.

Here’s the thing: it’s hard to pour your time, budget, and energy into these initiatives, and not see progress happen as quickly – or as systemically – as you want.

So maybe it’s time to dig into some hard truths and diagnose what could be going wrong with your DEI initiatives.

Why DEI initiatives struggle to make an impact

As you read this, you probably already have an inkling about why your DEI strategy isn’t landing the way you’d hoped.

But sometimes it’s harder to identify. So, we spoke to Anu Mandapati, VP Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, to find out some of the reasons why DEI efforts struggle.

  1. The leadership team hasn’t fully committed

DEI is a strategic business priority, yet many organisations still place it solely within HR. Regardless of how well planned and executed a DEI programme is, if the entire executive team doesn’t commit, it comes across as performative. And if there’s lots of talk and lots of publicity but a lack of doing, employees (and the public) will sense the hypocrisy a mile off.

  1. There’s newfound awareness, but no real action

All too often, DEI programmes aim to create a broad level of awareness among employees – and stop there. There’s no advice or guidance on what to do next: no way to cause deep, fundamental behavioural change. Watching a webinar or joining a lunch-and-learn doesn’t engage employees on the level needed to spark genuine change.

  1. The numbers take priority over day-to-day experiences

A diverse workforce doesn’t equal an inclusive, equitable workplace. And not acknowledging this can have an incredibly negative impact on diverse employees. Looking at the stats and increasing the number of diverse employees is the start. But the real work needs to happen in creating psychological safety and belonging.

  1. The focus is on people, rather than workplace

We see it all the time: a focus on changing the individual, rather than improving the environment. When organisations put the burden of change onto marginalised and underrepresented groups – rather than addressing systemic inequality and fixing biased environments – they can’t move the DEI dial.

What needs to change?

There are some key things your organisation needs to do to overcome these challenges and set your DEI strategy up for success.

You can find out what they are (plus some behaviours you can commit to) in our guide: Why your DEI initiatives are struggling – and how to truly move the needle.