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The top question leaders ask is: Does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training work?
The answer is not a simple “yes” or “no”. It depends on how the work is positioned within the organization.
- Is it intentional?
- Is it consistent?
- Is it fully supported by senior leadership?
DEI is not effective as it is forcedprogress is not measured and is not supported by senior leadership. However, when commitment is intentional and consistent through leadership and measured over time, organizations experience results. They see higher innovation rates, improved decision making and higher profitability than their industry peers.
When the DEI work fluctuates with the news cycle or DEI training is done as a check-the-box one-time approach, it can do more harm than good. DEI is not a short-term venture. Organizations that are proactive about DEI, weaving it into their strategy, addressing systemic issues and measuring results see better results over time.
Let’s compare the different approaches of two organizations that have launched DEI initiatives.
Related: Does diversity work actually help or harm companies? The answer is complicated.
Organization A: reactive
They reacted to events in the news cycle and took immediate action. Though they arrived on time, they overshadowed their efforts by making bold statements and making charitable donations tailored to newsworthy topics. Due to the quick response and the unclear reporting, the employees did not know why they were suddenly forced to participate in DEI training and for what purpose.
Organization A’s initiative failed because employees felt the organization was running an empty “check-the-box” initiative to promote their promotion of DEI; without the intention of actually creating a fair work culture. They lacked the basic organizational data needed to build a strategic plan and measure impact over time. Of course, events in the news cycle faded — and so did the organization’s efforts. This led to a decline in employee engagement and, unfortunately, employee resistance to participate in future DEI efforts.
Organization B: Proactive
In this case, the leadership team members were intentional with their efforts. They surveyed the entire organization to find out current perceptions of DEI (established a baseline), used a dashboard to measure impact over time, conducted listening sessions to gain support, and used all the data collected to support their initiatives . Organization B then built a strategic DEI communications program with consistent, “bite-sized” communications and monthly manager touchpoints. Their result was successful and led year after year to an increase in DEI statistics, higher retention and promotion rates of employees in marginalized groups.
From both case studies, reactive and proactive, we can see that reactive responses to news cycles or haphazardly constructed performative initiatives designed to create the outward impression of a DEI compliant organization have failed to catch on and further division, confusion and frustration among cause employees. . Proactive planning and organizational leadership that present a consistent and united front with their messages are necessary for a successful DEI initiative.
Related: How to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Workplace
How to be proactive
1. Be intentional
DEI training should be linked to the overall strategy and embedded in the organizational culture. A strong DEI strategy answers what it means to our organization and why it matters here, now and in the future. Get a baseline assessment of where you are on the DEI journey and use the feedback to craft a mission statement that will drive common purpose across the organization.
2. Be consistent
Once a clear mission statement has been established, it should be prominent in any communication about DEI. By incorporating it into all DEI-related communications over time, employees who may be skeptical or fail to see the value of DEI will begin to see how it shapes the employee experience. Often, the smaller bite-sized communication can meet people where they are and build momentum for addressing systemic issues such as pay equity and bias in hiring and performance processes.
3. Get full leadership support
When leading DEI work, encourage everyone to consistently participate fully, especially senior leadership. Make participation highly encouraged or expected so that people feel psychologically safe to participate and not forced. Get people involved in the process to get buy-in early and often.
Leadership must be clear, consistent and united in their communication about DEI. Employees should have a crystal clear understanding of the importance of the DEI initiative to the organization, what is expected of them and why their participation is essential. The clarity in this message will also act as a deterrent to anyone who is adamantly opposed to participating in DEI, as there is no room for disagreement when the goal is clear.
Related: Is This Diversity and Inclusion Concept the Missing Link for Real Change?
DEI training works when it is intentional, consistent, and fully supported by senior leadership. But if it’s reactive and only done opportunistically as part of the news cycle, it can be harmful. Leadership that is proactive with DEI work wins over time.