Why diversity programs fail

Diversity programs have been around for years, yet companies still have an abundance of diversity issues. There is a lack of women and people of color in leadership. Turnover is high, and employee engagement is low. Situations arise on a daily basis that creates a social media nightmare for organizations, resulting in public shaming and forced apologies.


Here are five important reasons why diversity programs fail:


  1. Diversity is often seen as, “nice to do,” rather than a business imperative.
    When it's nice to do, it's an extra. It hovers out there, unconnected to anything else within the business, and as a result, diversity efforts and training are not taken seriously. They are seen as fluff and soft skills that don't really add much to the business itself.

    Instead, when we see diversity as a real business issue with goals such as improving employee engagement, aiding recruiting and retention, or attracting new customers, then learning more about diversity becomes imperative for the business.

  2. Diversity training is seen as one and done, not organizational change.
    It is something that companies can check off their list and look good when they're trying to attract new customers and employees.

    Learning how to better understand each other and relate to people doesn't happen in an hour webinar or a four-hour class. It is something that we need to embrace and build into our systems and interactions with others. It is something that requires constant vigilance, because if we don't pay attention to it and get it embedded into our way of doing work, it's never going to get fixed.

  3. Diversity training that is reactionary treats the symptoms, not the deeper issues.
    In this transparent world of social media, the slightest transgression can become a big issue. We see organizations being publicly called out and then reacting with an apology and “quick fix” training to alleviate public tension. But if they don't follow the training up with meaningful organizational change, it’s all for naught.

    Quick fix trainings are for show. Meaningful change requires addressing the cause for the mistreatment, not just the symptom. This means systemic change and addressing biases in the processes, procedures, and culture that allowed such an event to happen.

  4. Teaching attitudes, like tolerance and sensitivity, will never work. We cannot teach attitudes. Rather than help the situation, classes on tolerance and sensitivity create division. After all, who is it that really needs to be more tolerant and sensitive? It's the majority population. Tactics like these only serve to put everyone on the defensive, whether you’re from the majority population or not. Is it any wonder why this type of training doesn't work?

    Diversity training must be focused on teaching skills, like how to recognize cultural patterns and use them in solving problems and resolving conflict, rather than attitudes. Creating competence and helping people to have more meaningful conversations with those who are different from them is the only way we learn to work more effectively with others.

  5. Diversity programs are treated as, “One size fits all.”Too many organizations offer classes targeted at a specific problem, like unconscious bias, and expect everyone to go through. However, not everyone is ready to hear the same message a the same time. In fact, introducing certain topics at the wrong time in peoples’ development can close them off to hearing the messages they need to hear.

    The most effective approach to teaching diversity and inclusion is a developmental approach. If someone hasn’t had a lot of exposure or learning around different cultures, that doesn't make them “bad” or “wrong.” It just means that they don't yet understand a lot of the complexity that is out there. We need to meet people where they are in terms of their understanding around diversity, inclusion, and cultural commonalities and differences.  


Effective diversity and inclusion training is organizational change, not an overnight remedy. As such, it requires thought and intention… otherwise, you’re just throwing your money away.

Download our checklist on how to make your diversity and inclusion training more effective.


@2018 daiOne, LLC



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