Future of Work

Why Your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Initiative Isn’t Moving the Needle – And Ways to Spur Movement

You’ve formed your Diversity Committee. You’ve offered diversity training to all your staff. You’ve made a statement to the world about diversity. But nothing seems to have had an impact. What went wrong?    

A recent Forbes article listed four reasons why diversity efforts fail: no long-range plan, lack of commitment to the program, poor instructional delivery model and lack of representation.  Let’s look at each individually.   

No long-range plan. Long-term success is planned. DEI programs fail because they lack DEI goals. Goals are not aligned with your organization’s strategic goals and objectives.  

Lack of commitment to the program. Commitment from your organization’s leadership is required for any action to succeed. DEI programs fail because leaders aren’t trained in and/or held accountable for upholding DEI principles and achieving DEI goals.  

Poor delivery model. DEI programs fail because training on DEI is cerebral and transactional. It doesn’t reach to the heart and drive the behavioral change necessary to leverage diversity. It’s usually a “checkbox” or “one and done” activity. 

 Lack of representation. Diversity is all about integration of different perspectives. DEI programs fail because leadership is mostly white, male, and fairly homogeneous in perspective. Different perspectives aren’t available during discussions and decisions are made exclusively based on biases.  

 Further, through my own work with various companies, common barriers to successful DEI initiatives that often surface include:  

 Unconscious implicit bias. We all have biases about people we don’t know well. Affinity bias and Confirmation bias prevent us from seeking out people different from us. They prevent us from seeing value or merit in people unlike us or with perspectives different from our own.  

 Resistance to change. Change means that we’re required to do something we’re not accustomed to. It’s uncomfortable, and we humans don’t like to be uncomfortable so we resist change. When we resist changing our own biased perspectives and opening ourselves to seeking out and including diverse perspectives, we don’t get the best ideas or make the best decisions.  

 Lack of understanding of organizational benefits. When leaders and staff members don’t understand the benefits of DEI, they’re likely not to push for integrating DEI policies or making cultural changes in the organization. Leaders need to understand the benefits of DEI and how to drive them.  

 Reluctant to allow time for changes to take root. We’re not taught how to be inclusive and equitable. It takes time and practice to learn how to engage in DEI. Further, leaders and staff are reluctant to take time away from the organization’s day-to-day work to devote to DEI efforts. Because DEI appears to have only indirect impact on product release or project deadlines, it’s usually overlooked it or given a lower priority.  

 But even amid past or current lackluster results, you can adopt and implement additional ways to spur your DEI effort forward. These include:  

  1. Utilize DEI as an organizational performance enhancer.
    Understand how each aspect of organizational performance — whether effectiveness, efficiency, financial viability and so on — leveraging the different ideas and capabilities in the organization enhances endeavors. Further, many customers only want to do business with organizations with a DEI focus. 
  2. Recognize that diversity alone isn’t enough.
    Organizations must also exhibit equity and inclusion. Diversity without equity and inclusion can be worse than having no diversity at all. This is because, if you have diverse people who don’t know how to engage in equitable and inclusive ways, differences in culture and style can cause miscommunication and mistrust. 
  3. Appreciate that DEI involves culture change.
    Successfully implementing a DEI initiative involves changing hearts, minds, and habits. This doesn’t happen overnight. It requires creating and communicating a credible, tangible vision (in story form) of benefits, of what DEI actually looks like in the organization, and of how the organization is going about achieving it through principles as well as policies and procedures. 
  4. Build in a system to hold everyone accountable.
    Accountability is key. All stakeholders must be involved and held accountable for equitable inclusion of diverse people.  

 Moving the needle in your organization is about understanding the components of DEI and their benefits, communicating the necessary culture change, and putting accountability systems in place to gauge the impact. In this way, your organization will spur the movement that allows it to generate the best ideas, make the best decisions, and see the positive results of your DEI initiative.  


Written by James T. McKim.
Have you read?
Perfectly Imperfect: Embracing your Lopsidedness by Chris De Santis.
5 Foundational Elements of an Inclusion System by Amri Johnson.
Corporations and Abortion Rights: Navigating the Storm by Dr. Joe Zammit-Lucia.
America Is Flirting With World War III. History Reveals a Better Approach by Christopher D. Kolenda, Ph.D.

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James T. McKim
James T. McKim, PMP, ITIL, is founder and managing partner at Organizational Ignition where he and his team help organizations ignite efficiency through aligning people, processes and technology. He is a sought-after speaker, coach, change manager and conference presenter, and is frequently interviewed by the media on organizational performance through diversity. His new book is The Diversity Factor: Igniting Superior Organizational Performance (EPIC Author Publishing, March 1, 2022).


James T. McKim is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.