5 Reasons Why Diversity Initiatives Fail (+ How to Save Yours)

Feb 09, 2016 - Joe Matar

Efforts to increase diversity in the workplace are nothing new. It’s widely acknowledged that more diverse workforces are better workforces, and most successful organizations have explicit diversity policies in place.

Yet, despite decades of efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in corporate America, even the most casual observer of business trends will notice that it remains a much-discussed topic — and not because companies are great at it.

So where does the disconnect come from? If leaders know that diversity is good for business, why do they fail to create diverse workforces? How do these carefully designed diversity initiatives fail?

[clickToTweet tweet="Why do good #diversity initiatives fail? It's almost always one of these five reasons:" quote="Why do good diversity initiatives fail? It's almost always one of these five reasons."]

After more than 20 years working with human resources executives at Fortune 50 companies all over the globe, I’ve found that these five common issues are usually at the root of why diversity initiatives fail.

1. A Misunderstanding of What Diversity Is

Any diversity initiative that functions solely to meet specific metrics is doomed to fail from the start. Yes, workplaces thrive when you bring in a wide variety of people with different life experiences and ideas, but diversity is more than just who you hire — it also encompasses how you integrate employees within their team and the company culture as a whole. When workers feel like they don’t belong, they lose job satisfaction. Diversity initiatives should seek to make every employee feel heard, valued, and included.

2. Believing There Are No Issues

The downfall of many a diversity initiative is the assumption that because a policy is in place, it must be working. The existence of a diversity initiative is a very different thing than the implementation of a diversity initiative. Human resources and diversity leaders need to make sure that every member of the organization understands what diversity is, why it’s valuable, and how to foster it. You should always be looking for opportunities to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. As you probably already know, creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is hard! Managing the the needs of dozens to hundreds to thousands of workers, all with different job roles and workplace priorities is a highly complex task — one that takes more than the presence of a diversity initiative to accomplish.

[clickToTweet tweet="The existence of a #diversity initiative is very different than the implementation of one." quote="The existence of a diversity initiative is a very different thing than the implementation of a diversity initiative. " theme="style3"]

3. Lack of Organizational Buy-In

If you don’t have the support of your colleagues in your diversity initiatives, it’s going to be very hard to enact any meaningful culture change in your organization. Leaders need education to understand that diversity is more than a buzzword or a perfunctory corporate duty — it’s a vital part of the success of any organization. A real commitment to diversity and inclusion is sometimes at odds with the expectations of management, because it necessitates a slowdown of things they want to be easy — hiring, communication, decision making, etc. However, an intentional focus on managing differences or diversity helps leaders optimize the talent on their teams and, hopefully, in turn optimize their results.

4. Unexplored Bias

As you move your corporation from a quota-based understanding of diversity to an inclusion-based understanding, you’ll likely unearth new, unexplored biases that are holding back your talent from reaching its full potential. Assumptions about temperament, personality, and leadership style may prevent you from uncovering amazing leaders.

[clickToTweet tweet="The best way to serve your talent is to treat each member of your organization as an individual." quote="The best way to serve your talent is to treat each member of your organization as an individual."]

In fact, human resources and diversity managers would do well to avoid thinking in terms of groups at all. The best way to serve your talent is to treat each member of your organization as an individual. A granular understanding of your workforce is the best way to serve each member and the organization as a whole.

5. A Lack of Support

If you’re a diversity leader reading this, you’re probably asking yourself when you’re going to have the time or resources to actually remove all of the hindrances to the success of your diversity initiatives. You’re probably doing your best just to finish this blog post! This is one of those problems that goes back to organizational buy-in. If a company really cares about diversity, high-level executives have to be involved and it needs to be promoted from the top down, through both words and actions. If you’re met with pushback, remind them why they hired a diversity leader to begin with. If they aren’t just paying lip service to improving the workplace, they’ll give you the tools you need.

Be the Change You Wish to See (in Your Company)

These aren’t the only hindrances to a successful diversity initiative, but they are very common. If you find yourself frustrated by a lack of traction in your diversity efforts, remember that building a diverse, inclusive workforce begins with the personal decisions you make every day. By being an example of inclusion and caring, you can start to change a company culture.


[avatar user="lmink" size="thumbnail" align="left" /]

Lisa Mink is an executive coach and HR consultant who advises individuals and companies from around the world. Drawing on over two decades of HR and executive coaching experience, Lisa hosts a variety of diversity and communication workshops, including leadership for young women leaders, career development for millennial workers and management techniques for new leaders.