The business benefits of workplace inclusion and workforce diversity have been well explored and described. Many companies – global, international, and domestic – have been working on this for years, and in some cases for decades.
And yet there’s still a problem.
The reasons initiatives are not delivering intended outcomes have also been well explored and described.
And yet there’s still a problem.
So what’s going on? Is there another reason that companies large and small are failing at this?
One that just isn’t being openly discussed?
The elephant in the room is much more insidious: conflicts of interest.
It’s the shameful corporate reality that never gets discussed and underlies the lack of progress.
I can relate to this personally. I decided to come out as gay after serving for 17 years with an employer. Having risen to a senior executive position leading a large business unit, I had decided I needed to live my authentic self at work. I had to decide whether I was willing to accept the potential consequences of coming out in the forms of at-work discrimination, career stagnation, maybe even having to leave the company.
I sought assurances that the company’s statements on inclusion and diversity were authentic and not just “box-ticking”. With other LGBT+ colleagues, we formed the first LGBT+ employee resource group in the company anywhere in the world. We participated in the Stonewall UK workplace equality index and worked across diversity groups to bring about change. I then began to see, experience, and, regrettably, became personally complicit, in these conflicts of interest. I saw first-hand the conflict between the actions needed to bring about change and the personal impacts that they can have. It creates a pernicious pressure on employees of all levels that the employer allowed to persist, and whether consciously or not exploits.
This is the second article in a six-part series of posts that explores this more:
- The benefits of equity, workplace inclusion, and workforce diversity and what’s going wrong.
- Why it’s going wrong
- What’s not being discussed and the elephant in the room
- Corporate conflicts of interest
- Personal conflicts of interest
- Conclusions and actions
Why is it going wrong?
Achieving these changes isn’t easy – that’s why it’s a strategic issue.
Analysis of failures include Here Is Why Diversity And Inclusion Are Disconnected, And How To Fix That (Forbes), 5 Reasons Diversity And Inclusion Fails (Forbes), Why Diversity Programs Fail (HBR), Why do diversity and inclusion efforts fail? (HR Executive), there are many more.
Examples of the reasons for failure include:
- Diversity training, and specifically unconscious bias training, doesn’t work – or at least requires careful implementation.
- People processes including hiring and performance reviews are complex and subject to the decision-making biases of managers. The downside effects are also almost immediately seen, while upside effects take time to be seen.
- Diversity can be more easily measured than inclusion. When employees feel safe to share their demographic information workforce diversity is measurable. The same is not true for workplace inclusion which by its very nature requires proxies to be created to generate measures.
- Focusing on external recognition is too narrow a definition of success. Winning awards or being on “top 100 diverse employers” lists can lead to narrow definitions of success. Meeting the criteria does not necessarily mean that there is a genuinely inclusive workplace. They can easily mislead external stakeholders, as well as executives.
- Expecting a small group of unempowered people to deliver strategic change is unlikely to deliver success. Diversity and Inclusion programs are often led by part-time D&I managers in the HR department. Internal “champions” have high expectations placed upon them alongside their day jobs. Employee resource groups often have small budgets or time available.
- Relying on your diverse talent puts an unfair burden on them. The most informed individuals about a topic area, such as disability, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, are likely to be those who are living that life. HBR summarises this well. Many black professionals: “are expected to be “cultural ambassadors” who address the needs of other black employees, which leaves them doing two jobs: ‘the official one the person was hired to do, and a second one as a champion for members of the person’s minority group’”.
- The organisation may be insufficiently diverse, and not recruiting in diversity. If the company doesn’t have a diverse workforce – or is insufficiently inclusive to allow the diversity to flourish or to attract new talent – it’s somewhat inevitable that it will be more difficult to enhance equity, inclusion, and diversity.
The topics are complicated, can be difficult to talk about, take time to put in place, and even more time to see the results. They also impact and are affected by, social as well as political dynamics.
Catch up on all of the other parts that make up this blog series below:
Steven has extensive experience in strategic executive leadership having led large business units at Fujitsu. Steven has had full and operational delivery responsibility for $1bn annual revenue business, including sales / growth, of full-service range (consultancy and change programmes, to operational IT services) to multiple clients. Leading business through changes in strategic direction, crisis management, transformational turnarounds especially those delivering business critical services to clients such as Public Sector / National Government. Steven engages well with C-suite executives and senior stakeholders, including in previous roles with UK Government Cabinet Ministers.