At no point in human history have organizations around the world been more interested in developing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs than right now. While integrating underrepresented groups used to be a matter of public image and compliance in the past, it is now known that diverse teams perform better and result in more innovation. Unfortunately, despite efforts to push DE&I initiatives at an all-time high, these have proven insufficient.
According to the American analytics and advisory firm Gallup, 45% of all US workers have experienced some form of discrimination or harassment over the past year. When considering that more than half of all companies in the country have some type of DE&I policies or programs, it is clear that corporate America’s approach is not appropriate.
An expert exposing the shortcomings of current practices in a distinctively different way that is capturing considerable attention is Dr. Tiffany Brandreth, leadership and organizational psychologist, one of the original pioneers in the DE&I field. Since the late 1990s, Dr. Brandreth has been implementing ideas and change ahead of her time, accumulating knowledge that led to a unique specialization in the intersection between power, bias, and inequity as it converges with behavior, and talent processes, workplace culture, and hierarchy.
“The present work of DE&I is different specifically for executives that is not yet understood because best practices do not articulate this” states Dr. B. She explains “Professionals in this field who raise the voices of the silenced are truth tellers. We assume the risks the integrity of this work warrants that places in danger our employment, contracts, and financial stability because “speaking truth to power” leads to unfavorable consequences to the speaker. As oppression and inequity is reflected back when holding the mirror up to leaders, no matter how delicately it is revealed, a big red stop sign shows up. Evidence is dismissed in sophisticated forms and efforts are redirected to what I reference as the ‘easier’ work. Unpacking and dismantling this dynamic without judgment or blame is the new diversity education and development I help C Suite teams with. It’s been a game changer.”
Dr. Brandreth emphasizes this is the modern-day expertise required for DE&I to partner at the executive level before there will be remarkable progress in diversifying leadership and creating inclusive environments. This level of work requires maintaining the anonymity of clients which absolutely impedes self promotion for business development purposes but if the need to market high profile companies outweighs the interest to facilitate the deep work of diversity, then leaders will hold back because it places them and their corporation at risk. The honesty and depth for change to occur has no room for self interest or ego from practitioners this CEO strongly asserts and is principled in upholding.
This surfaces what Dr. B has coined the “DE&I Death Zone™ Phenomenon” as a direct reference to the “death zone”, Mt. Everest’s most dangerous passage. Just like its counterpart in the world’s highest mountain, the DE&I Death Zone™ is where DE&I initiatives perish as a result of leadership decisions that yet remain concealed because the easy, more visible activities give a false appearance of commitment with the workforce none the wiser.
Dr. B’s study consisting of 75 executives serving as the sponsors and champions of DE&I initiatives in mid to large companies ranging from 2,000 to 150,000 employees found that only 20% of advocates were actually advancing initiatives accurately with the remaining 80% approving ‘feel good’ activities but rejecting efforts that would remove inequity. Dr. B believes these findings are a clear indication a redirection is needed in the DE&I field, saying:
“DE&I is at a crossroads being faced with a critical choice: stay on the current, easier path of less resistance or embark on a transformative new strategy that will inform new best-in-class benchmarks for the industry. Decades of failed progress are on the line if we follow the same path with the same solutions rewarding the wrong criteria.”
Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, and religion are only some of the aspects considered when talking about DE&I. By ensuring members of multiple groups are represented in an equitable and inclusive manner, organizations can improve morale, foster connections, boost creativity, and even outperform their competitors. As such, the impact of failing to successfully implement such an initiative is more than just a matter of compliance or public perception.
Leading this revolution has been Dr. B’s mission long before the founding of TBM & Associates back in 2013. She reflects back to the launch of her consulting firm as a result of “speaking truth to power” that was pivotal in viewing DE&I through another lens in which the field keeps a safe distant from due to the ramifications of being “blacklisted” which only reinforced the importance of her study and practice in helping executives discover their roles and deeply imbedded practices that contradict the values they strongly identify with and the changes they are committed to.
She is asking “leaders please stop encouraging diverse members to ‘speak truth to power’ unless they are given the protection needed since 63% of the executives in my research who were strong advocates for DE&I exhibited unfavorable outcomes towards those who did. We need to help ‘power speak truth to power’ which asks fellow peers to step up but even peers are in self-preservation. Every executive team I work with has a subtle uneven power dynamic that we uncover so it’s irresponsible to advise the already disadvantaged to place themselves at risk when those above them aren’t even comfortable or willing to do so.”
Dr. B believes corporate executives who hold the greatest responsibility as the decision-makers to achieve the promise and purpose that DE&I is intended to fulfill are the most under-developed group in diversity education for two reasons: they have not prioritized their own development to the degree it necessitates and they have also not been engaged in learning that directly translates to the authority they hold.”
With social change being one of the driving factors of today’s society, the misleading nature of existing DE&I research is a matter that should be of public knowledge. It is time for corporate America and the DE&I industry to re-evaluate their strategies and be receptive to new solutions. After all, change in the wrong direction means more of an uphill climb to an already strenuous mission.
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