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Building Your DEI Strategy: Mistakes to Avoid

Contributors: Sara Morris PK Sundar

Building a sustainable internal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy can result in positive impacts across your organization. Workplace diversity has the potential to improve culture, financial performance, talent acquisition and retention, and productivity. When we encourage diversity of thought and experience, we foster innovation that translates into competitive advantage. With DEI strategy at the top of many organizational agendas, leaders should remember that inclusion is an everyday opportunity.  As organizations look to make a greater impact, here are three common DEI strategy mistakes to avoid as they move forward. 

Building Your DEI Strategy: Mistakes to Avoid

1. Lack of communication regarding overall goals 

DE+I initiatives don’t warrant a one-size-fits-all approach. Organizations are encouraged to ground employees in what diversity means to them and the ‘why’ behind the effort. Companies with effective change and communication programs are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peers, and employees are more likely to support DEI efforts if they understand the potential benefits.  

Emphasizing accountability when implementing your DEI strategy is crucial. Accountability helps set expectations and requires transparency; we can’t just assume everyone knows what’s going on. When organizations aren’t transparent about their focus on DEI or stay silent regarding the topic altogether, it “sends the message that it is not important to them.How can organizations expect to successfully implement an effective DE+I strategy if the employees are unaware of the initiative? 

According to SHRM, 80% of companies are just “going through the motions” of DEI and not holding themselves accountable. To foster a culture of inclusion, respect is essential for 48% of employees. This respect spans further than just acknowledgment of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, but employees want to know that their management is willing to listen, hear, and act. Organizations are encouraged to be genuine in their efforts, emphasize accountability, stay consistent, and maintain transparency about their DEI efforts. 

2. Focusing on recruiting new, diverse talent rather than training and retaining current employees 

All too often we see organizations looking for a “quick fix” as they build their DEI strategy, and one of the first things they do is look to hire diverse talent. While hiring from underrepresented groups is certainly a crucial part of building your long-term DEI strategy, we find that organizations that have the most long-term sustainable success focus on creating an internal environment where folks can thrive before looking outward. Organizations can spend significant time and money on recruiting, but the impact is lessened if retention isn’t there. 

Businesses looking to retain current talent should ask themselves, what does the culture of growth and learning look like in your organization for underrepresented groups? Do these groups feel supported? Are they truly listening to the feedback and experiences of their underrepresented employees and implementing structural changes to help them? Are they provided with sponsorship and growth opportunities? 

Organizations we see who are the most successful at retaining talent have intentional mentorship programs that don’t serve to just check a box, but they help build meaningful relationships. A study by HBR found that formal mentoring programs within organizations boosted representation of women and people of color (POC) in management on average by 9 to 24 %. Organizations should seek out mentors both internal and external to the business who have the time and skillset to be meaningful mentors to BIPOC employees, and not fall into the all-too-common trap of marginal mentoring. 

3. Putting DEI on the back burner when budgets are tight 

Almost two-thirds of organizations (65%) say DEI is important, but yet a staggering 63% have budgeted little to no resources toward DEI. While access to DEI programs increased from 29% to 43% between 2020 and 2022, it has dipped to 41% in the past year. In a time when it’s no secret that budgets are tight and executives are looking to cut where they can, how can your organization avoid backtracking in terms of your DEI strategy?  

Giving your DEI team your time and a seat at the table doesn’t have to impact your budget. Give your DEI champions and advocates direct access to executive leadership on a regular basis. Time and time again, we’ve seen that executive buy-in is the number one indicator of DEI success for many businesses. Organizations that have successful long-term DE+I strategies provide employees with space to both have their ideas heard and concerns voiced.   

Going Forward 

To not fall prey to common DEI mistakes, organizations must be intentional about how they’re communicating, retaining their people, and keeping DEI top of mind even when budgets are tight. Proactively keeping these common roadblocks in mind will help your business maintain a lasting DEI program. 

To learn more about developing a long-term DEI strategy, reach out to one of our DEI experts today. 

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Tags: Diversity + Inclusion