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3 Common Challenges in Diversity and DEI Initiatives

Most people (56%) believe diversity in the workplace is a good thing, according to Pew Research. Diversity training in the workplace can be incredibly beneficial, not just to employee experience, but to the bottom line as well. Research shows that diverse companies outperform others in the market.

Yet, despite the widespread recognition of the workplace benefits of diversity and inclusion, many companies have not yet embraced DEI programs. Affirmity and the HR Research Institute conducted a study to determine if organizations have adopted diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. The results revealed that only two-fifths of organizations have a "mature" DEI program in place.

So why do relatively few companies have high-performing DEI initiatives in place? One reason could be that doing DEI the right way is quite hard, and it comes with some challenges that need to be addressed. In other words, there are difficulties and obstacles that organizations need to overcome to make their DEI initiatives work well.

1: Leaders and/or the workforce don’t understand why they need a DEI program.

Per the HR Research Institute study, 34% of survey respondents cited a lack of understanding of the potential benefits as a barrier to DEI effectiveness. Often, the arguments against diversity are shaky. If DEI programs are implemented without a solid business case to support them, they’ll never be given the time, attention, and energy they really need to be successful.

Unconscious bias can play a role in this lack of understanding. “Research shows that even just the presence of physical diversity results in better performance and for companies that are data-driven, that extra performance boost can be extremely motivating,” Sabrina Clark, a managing partner with SYPartners, which specializes in organizational transformation, told CIO Magazine. That’s the kind of argument that gets real buy-in.

2: The organization treats DEI as an isolated HR project.

Diversity cannot thrive in an organization when it is treated as a standalone, one-off project or - worse - tacked onto other projects. When approached this way communication issues arise in the organization.

To truly foster diversity, a business needs regular communication and open, sometimes difficult, conversations involving everyone. No one exists outside the need for diversity, which includes overcoming language barriers. It's a fundamental value that should reflect everything the company does.

This means DEI initiatives shouldn't be isolated within HR alone. Certainly, human resources have a leading role to play in DEI programs, but diversity must be a top-down priority that starts with the C-suite and other leaders and flows into every department and division of the organization. This holistic approach promotes the development of diverse teams and a more inclusive culture.

3: People are afraid of making mistakes, so they don’t even try.

Creating a workplace where everyone feels like they truly belong and where things run smoothly starts with talking openly about important topics like diversity, inclusion, and equity. But these conversions can be tough. Many people worry so much about saying the wrong thing or accidentally upsetting someone that they decide to not try at all.

In these cases, this is where the DEI program steps in to make a difference. A key aspect is offering support to individuals, helping them gain the confidence and skills necessary to engage in honest conversations. It provides them with a guide to navigate these discussions without fear.

Moreover, these conversations help create an environment where everyone's voice matters, everyone is comfortable being themselves, fostering a strong sense of belonging for all groups of people. It's about cultivating a workplace where diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords but are part of the everyday interactions and decisions that shape the business.

Key Takeaways

Establishing effective Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives presents both its importance and its challenges. The majority of people recognize the benefits of diversity in the workplace, it's clear many companies are still in the process of fully embracing DEI programs.

The survey conducted by Affirmity and the HR Research Institute has shed light on a critical gap between the understanding of DEI's importance and its actual implementation. Businesses face challenges in their pursuit of DEI, which really contribute to this gap.

One of the major challenges lies in ensuring that leaders and employees alike understand the value of DEI programs. Without a compelling case, these initiatives may struggle to receive the necessary attention and resources, especially in the hiring process led by hiring managers. As Clark noted, backed by research, the presence of diversity can significantly enhance performance, particularly in data-driven companies.

Another major challenge arises when a business treats DEI as an isolated HR project. It must cover every corner of the business, starting from the top leadership and flowing into every department. Diversity can only thrive when it becomes an important part of the business's core values and practices, deeply ingrained in the company culture and problem-solving processes.

Finally, the fear of making mistakes or causing offense causes people to avoid these conversations altogether. This is where a DEI program can support your employees. It helps people feel confident and gives them the skills to talk openly. It helps them understand different points of view, sort out misunderstandings, and learn from each other.

So, while there are challenges, working on diversity and inclusion is worth it. By tackling these common issues, companies can create a workplace that embraces diversity, fosters inclusion, and creates a more equitable future for all.

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