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Are You Making These 5 Common Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mistakes?

Are You Making These 5 Common Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mistakes?

Our country is experiencing a resurgence of the civil rights movement and conversations on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are rumbling in our workplaces.

While it is clear to most leaders that it is time to address these issues head on – approaching DE&I strategy without thoughtfulness and sincerity can lead to reduced trust from employees and customers.

I sat down with Dr. Akilah Cadet, founder & CEO of Change Cadet, a consulting firm that offers executive coaching and strategic planning in support of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace.

Dr. Cadet shared her perspective on 5 major mistakes she sees companies making when creating diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Common diversity, equity and inclusion pitfalls

1. You’re not acknowledging what you’re doing right

It is commendable for an organization to be honest and admit that they have work to do when it comes to building a diverse and inclusive workplace. But before you start reinventing the wheel, evaluate what you’re doing right. There may be a framework already in place that hasn’t been fully utilized or effectively communicated internally.

Does your organization already have employee resource groups or bias training programs available to your people? Make sure they know those things exist and how to take advantage of them.

2. You don’t have definitions

You may have heard words like diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racist or belonging countless times – but what do they mean in the context of your organization? If your leaders aren’t clear on what they mean, your people certainly aren’t either.

Dr. Cadet explains a critical mistake companies make is trying to create strategic DE&I plans without having the meanings of these terms defined for their unique workplace – in addition to the corresponding behaviors and actions that accompany them.

Starting from the top, create clear and consistent language to communicate within your company about what diversity, equity and inclusion means and looks like.

Doing this work beforehand will set up your organization for success as you move forward with setting DE&I goals and measuring relevant KPI’s. 

3. You’re not making data-driven decisions on where to start

Employee surveys are a critical resource when determining where to focus your diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. And nearly all companies have experience gaps among different demographics within the workplace.

“The other thing that's important when it comes to metrics is, really reading and understanding the data that comes from your employee engagement survey,” says Dr. Cadet, “What are the things that are working really well? What are the things that are not working well? And having that be infused into your indicators within your strategic plan or your KPIs.”

If continuing protests against police brutality have moved your organization’s leaders to reassess diversity, equity and inclusion programs, don’t dance around your why. Dig deep into your employee survey data to understand the experience of Black employees in your organization.

4. You’re not allocating the proper resources

During the peak of heightened social tensions in response to the murder of George Floyd, many companies acted quickly by hiring Black and Indigenous folks and other people of color (BIPOC) into diversity leadership roles.

Dr. Cadet cautions organizations that have done so without providing the proper support to ensure the success of these efforts.

“Are you funding that person appropriately? Are they getting paid an equitable salary? Will they have a budget that’s more than $20,000 to do the work that needs to be done? Do they actually have organizational influence or are they just there to save face for what you’re doing?” asks Dr. Cadet.

In what she coins “the Black bluff,” when organizations place Black employees in leadership roles before they have fully committed to cultivating a culture of belonging, they set these leaders up for failure.

If leaders are serious about making real change, then diversity managers must be given the tools they need to make an impact, whether it’s monetary resources for internal training software or time with the C-suite to fast-track executive buy in.

5. You’re looking for a “culture fit”

When hiring, many companies seek out candidates that are a “culture fit” – an ambiguous, often immeasurable characteristic that really just means “someone who’s like us.” In a workplace that lacks a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, this approach will only reinforce those shortcomings.

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that effect our subconscious thoughts and decision making. Everyone (yes, even hiring managers) have implicit biases.

When building a diversity and inclusion plan, there must be a framework in which managers make hiring and promotion decisions in ways that mitigate their implicit bias.

Instead of seeking culture fits, consider flipping your point of view: Seek candidates who can bring something new to the business, help fill blind spots, push boundaries and expand the horizons in ways that will equip the organization for future success.

Are you ready to identify experience gaps in your culture?

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace drives innovation, boosts economic return and increases employee engagement. Our employee engagement platform Emprising has the tools you need to dig deeper into your employee survey data and drive positive change in your workplace.


Raven Tolbert