5 ways resisters may be undermining your DEI program and what to do about it

Despite the well-documented benefits of DEI programs, there are still many voices of resistance.
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Several weeks ago, many of us watched Silicon Valley Bank, the 16th-largest bank in the country fail, seemingly overnight. Some saw the bank’s collapse as an opportunity to blame an all too familiar bogeyman—“wokeness”—because of the institution’s commitment to workplace diversity and making environmentally and socially minded investments, when poor financial risk management was clearly to blame.

Despite the well-documented benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs (DEI), there are still many voices of resistance. Sometimes it’s overt, as with SVB’s armchair quarterbacks, and sometimes it’s more subtle.

That resistance is keeping many companies, and their employees, from being part of a workplace where there is a true diversity of opportunity and thought, with all of the benefits that brings to the culture and to the bottom line. In an environment of tightening budgets, many companies are paring away anything that is not a “core” function of the business, and in doing so are divesting from DEI programs or deprioritizing them.

If you feel progress in your organization has stalled, here are some mindsets that may signal you are facing veiled resistance, and some ideas on how to respond. 

‘We just need to see the data that DEI makes sense’

The business case for diversity has been proven many times over. Detractors often hide their resistance in an endless string of requests for more information “proving” that employees will be happier, or the business will profit more, if a DEI program is added or deepened.

Sometimes a request for more data is a good-faith attempt to ensure that an organization’s approach to DEI is rigorous and connected to helpful metrics. Sometimes it’s a stalling tactic. Although it is important to back any program with rigorous data, DEI is still an evolving discipline, and the data on it is relatively new. Waiting until there’s enough data on it to make a case to the Supreme Court will result in one thing: nothing being done.

The companies that are most successful in building a culture where all team members feel welcome are diving into their programs and course-correcting if they’ve made a mistake. They don’t want to risk losing talent or customers because they have failed to do anything meaningful.

‘We don’t have the luxury of building for tomorrow right now’

In today’s business environment, resisters often use this argument to put DEI efforts, such as recruiting in brand new arenas, on the back burner—and double down on traditional notions of what talent looks like. Their mindset leaves them unable to meet the challenges of today. Both employees and customers expect the companies where they work and do business to include people like themselves right now, and if they don’t see any diversity, they will go elsewhere.

‘We hire for culture fit’

It’s hard to achieve DEI when you are hiring for “culture fit,” because generally speaking, people who are very similar to your current team will fit most seamlessly into your culture. Generally, hiring for “values fit” will help you achieve greater diversity. This means hiring people who align with your core values. For instance, asking prospective employees in job interviews for examples of how they demonstrated the company’s core values is a good way to find people from different backgrounds who share common beliefs, such as “We keep our promises.”

‘HR is handling it’

DEI isn’t just an HR concern. It takes place anytime your organization touches a human, from your website to your product or service to the leadership style of your C-suite executives. The best programs consider a person’s experience with your organization. Do they feel seen by your organization? Is your product or service mindful of their needs? Are they experiencing bias or even harm with you? DEI is about culture, education, learning and development opportunities, customer experience, marketing and branding, and internal communications. Thinking about how to do that intentionally can help you take your program to the next level.

‘It’s an American problem’

Many companies treat DEI as a challenge that’s confined to the United States. But in fact, firms around the world are grappling with many similar issues when it comes to making sure they have an equitable representation of people that accounts for race, gender, sexuality, disability, and age. If you’re looking to engage people globally, you need to stay on top of global trends in DEI.

Ultimately, there is no easy answer to resisters. Willingness to keep DEI programs in place, regardless of what the economy does, and to gather feedback consistently so they can be improved upon, are important steps. There are many exciting opportunities that come with embracing DEI, such as finding new talent and customers. But companies have to make a serious commitment to achieve the best results.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson is the CEO and founder of ReadySet, a diversity and inclusion training firm; author of How to Talk to Your Boss About Race: Speaking Up Without Getting Shut Down; and a member of YPO.

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