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10 Mistakes HR Pros Make With DEI Initiatives

How to find suitable solutions for common DEI mistakes

September 18th, 2022

HR professionals who are working within an organization’s DEI initiatives must possess certain degrees of sensitivity, sensibility, and awareness. After all, these initiatives pertain to the people within your company to ensure each and every team member is included, supported, and appreciated. When done correctly, DEI is a beautiful thing that creates a happy and healthy work environment.

However, sometimes DEI is not carried out as it should be, which can result in underrepresentation, performative statements, and decreased morale. This can definitely be avoided, and using unbiased HR software that supports your mission can be a great first step in eliminating human error and prejudices and creating a strong foundation for actionable DEI goals. Let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes that HR and leadership make when it comes to DEI and how to find suitable solutions for them.

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Not Realizing that Diversity Does Not Inherently Imply Inclusion

DEI does not stop after the hiring process. It’s a continuous effort to ensure that your workspace fosters positive connections, productivity, and acceptance for everyone. "HR professionals often make the mistake of trying to increase the number of women and people of color hired," says Tamica Sears, Executive Coach & HR Consultant at Sears Coaching. "This doesn’t work in the long term because if you don’t have a psychologically safe and inclusive culture, you're just creating a revolving door. Those employees will be treated poorly, they will be traumatized, and they will spread the word about the awful experience that they had."

It's easy for an employee to tell when DEI initiatives are just for show and not actually put into action, as they likely won’t be included in the same conversations and opportunities as their white counterparts. This is obviously detrimental to employee retention and company reputation, but it’s also terrible for that employee that has now been mistreated by an organization that promised them not just a seat, but an active role at the table.

How to Fix This:
"Focusing on creating the right culture before increasing diversity in the organization is key," says Sears. "Start with an assessment and get a realistic idea of how inclusive your company really is."

Prioritize amplifying the marginalized voices in your company. Corporate culture is guilty of placing more significance on what the white men have to say and not nearly enough on equally/more qualified minorities. Actively work their perspectives into your business operations and consider their points of view.

"Be open, ready to listen, and be prepared to not like what you hear, says Sears. "Don’t invalidate anyone’s experience if it's different from yours and ask for suggestions and help to get from the current state to the desired state. This may take a while, maybe even a couple of years, but it will be well worth it when you're able to retain employees and benefit from their diverse ideas, perspective, and experiences."

Issuing Empty DEI Initiatives With No Real Action or Impact

In today’s world, a company that has no DEI efforts whatsoever is as good as gone. In theory, this is great progress. Unfortunately, this requirement enables perhaps more disingenuous HR/DEI professionals to simply “check the box” when it comes to DEI so that they can say that they’ve done what's required.

"Plans are only as good as our willingness to put them into action, and failing to do so is one of the biggest mistakes HR professionals make when creating DEI initiatives," says Adelle Archer, CEO & Co-Founder, of Eterneva. "Many of us have seen the memos and guidelines issued by HR departments, and just as many of us know when there's intent behind them or if it's just lip service."

The whole purpose of these initiatives is to ensure that team members from all walks of life are equally supported, included, and have equal opportunities within the organization. DEI that's full of empty statements and promises become evident very quickly - your team WILL notice.

"HR professionals who fail to coordinate with other departments about implementation, do not include training, do not clearly spell out expectations, and who fail to have regular follow-ups, will soon lose their credibility and will have their initiatives seen as no more valuable than the paper they're printed on," says Archer.

How to Fix This: If someone is not particularly passionate about DEI, do not place them in a position to make decisions over your company’s DEI practices! The people in charge of these initiatives need to be true allies, advocates, and members of underrepresented communities so that meaningful change can actually happen.

Improperly Allocating Company Resources

This mistake goes hand-in-hand with the first one. These initiatives need to have the support of the company, and that includes the adequate allocation of company resources, primarily time and money. For example, at GoCo, we make it a point to highlight small, women, and minority-owned businesses in our area on a weekly basis and compensate our entire team with a stipend to spend at each highlighted business. We love discussing the accomplishments of these businesses and their backstories, and we couldn’t be happier to do our part in supporting them!

How to Fix This: Understand that DEI absolutely needs to be a priority for your organization and should be budgeted and accounted for as such. Invest properly in your people and your community and see how much better off you are because of it!

Creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) is a strategy that has worked well for many businesses.

"These employee-led groups can be valuable assets when designing and implementing diversity initiatives," says Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding. "Since members have lived experiences with the subject matters, their efforts and approaches seem more authentic and less like a matter of policy. The best way to collaborate with these groups is for HR and leadership to work collaboratively with the ERGs, providing budget and autonomy to design the programs in ways they think will best serve the community."

Failing to Understand That There is No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

"A common mistake HR professionals make with their DEI strategies is employing a standardized approach," says Nunzio Ross, Owner and Head Director at Majesty Coffee. "While core principles in DEI programs are consistent across workplaces, HR should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach."

Each and every marginalized community is so distinct. While the struggles of some communities may overlap in some areas, they're individual to each community for the most part. Therefore, there's absolutely no way that one DEI initiative can adequately address the full scope of what DEI needs to cover.

"An initiative designed to increase gender diversity may not be effective if it does not consider the specific challenges faced by women of color," says Wendy Makinson, HR Manager at Joloda Hydraroll. "The same goes for an initiative designed to increase racial diversity may not be effective if it does not consider the specific challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ people of color. "

How to Fix This: Take the effort to focus on individual communities and their struggles to the best of your ability. By doing so, initiatives can be tailored to properly address each particular situation.

"It's not enough that the HR team copies successful strategies they find online," says Ross "They must personalize their programs to fit work relationships, collaboration behavior, and functional dynamics in the workplace."

This will likely lead to more actionable results and more specific insights that your organization can use moving forward!

"By considering the specific needs of different groups of people, HR professionals can ensure that their DEI initiatives are more likely to be successful in the future," says Makinson.

Failing to Remember that DEI Includes Disabled Voices

For a lot of people, the communities that come to mind when we mention DEI are racial minorities and LGBTQIA+. Therefore, while an organization may be pouring an abundance of effort into initiatives towards these communities, our team members with disabilities could be getting overlooked.

How to Fix This: Keep team members with disabilities at the top of your mind alongside your other DEI initiatives. Make sure that your office is fully accessible for your entire team and implement initiatives that educate your able-bodied team members on the strains on the disabled community.

Attempting to Educate About Different Identities By Utilizing Familiar Analogies

Not everything can be familiarized to the white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied, and/or American eye. Some communities and their adversities are entirely unique and attempting to compare them to something familiar is not only a shallow tool to “educate,” but it also takes away from the gravity of those struggles. Education is indeed the key to positive change and action. However, how that education is delivered is imperative.

How to Fix This: Emphasize and Reiterate that there are some problems that the more privileged communities in this country and within your organization will simply never truly understand. The most you can do is educate them with full respect to whatever issue/community you're focusing on and convey that it's the duty of the privileged to AMPLIFY underprivileged voices - NOT to speak over them.

Lack of Support and Accountability For DEI From Company Leadership

The top of your organization needs to be leading by example. The messages and initiatives of DEI apply to each and every member of each and every organization, regardless of position in the company. When DEI is backed by all levels of an organization, it brings so much more meaning and intent behind your initiatives and reinforces that you're genuinely passionate about creating the safest and most accepting work environment that you possibly can.

How to Fix This: Urge your company leadership to actively participate in your DEI tactics. It's not enough for them to merely show up - they're just as much a part of the team as everyone else. How should you go about this? Hopefully, you feel comfortable enough with your leadership that you can have a productive conversation about their participation in DEI and the positive impact that it will surely have on the rest of the team.

Assuming Team Members From Marginalized Communities Will Do the Heavy Lifting

"Don’t make the success of the DEI campaign an additional responsibility of the people that the initiative is intended to support," says Michael Burghoffer, CEO at PicoSolutions. "The reality is that overworked and marginalized groups need sweeping company reform that stems from leadership and the HR department, not their own sweat."

If someone from a marginalized community does not want to, IT'S NOT THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO EDUCATE! Some people will jump at the chance to educate their colleagues on their experiences while others may prefer to keep those experiences to themselves. Both are valid.

How to Fix This: If someone volunteers to share their experiences and/or lead an initiative, that’s awesome, and make sure you’re doing your part to support them in doing so. Otherwise, do not volunteer someone to do this simply because they’re from a marginalized community. Some people genuinely do not feel comfortable in these situations and/or feel that the responsibility to educate should not rest on their shoulders - and they’d be correct.

Not Encouraging Self-Reflection

If your DEI lessons aren’t encouraging your team to look inward and reevaluate their own privilege and what they are or aren’t doing with it to support communities in need of a boost, is meaningful change actually happening? One of the most difficult things to do as people is to own up to our own shortcomings and change accordingly. However, when that occurs, the shift is invaluable and it means that your efforts with DEI are really paying off. These lessons should extend beyond the corporate arm and inspire your team’s actions outside of the workplace as well!

How to Fix This: Remember in the beginning when we said DEI required a certain degree of sensitivity? To properly encourage self-reflection, find out your team’s preferred communication style and use that to convey the importance of being aware of themselves in their everyday lives when it comes to addressing underprivileged groups and situations.

Communicate this urgency to them while avoiding offending/villainizing them by emphasizing the significance of acknowledging the issues and their solutions and the negative impacts of failing to do so. By not individually calling people out, you can give them room to process, learn, and change without fear of judgment for any past actions or mindsets they may have been associated with.

Not Reflecting the Company DEI Initiatives Within the Organization’s Hierarchy

One of the biggest giveaways as to how much your company truly values and prioritizes DEI is the hierarchy of the organization. If the top of your organization is overwhelmingly white and male while everyone else is closer to the bottom, it may be time to reevaluate your internal DEI practices.

DEI initiatives should also reflect the needs and values of stakeholders at all levels of your organization, not just the top.

"Everybody should be brought to the table so that the plan meets the needs of the business and its employees," says Linda Shaffer, Chief People Operations Officer at Checkr." If not all stakeholders are sold on the idea from the get-go, it'll be an uphill battle to implement any sort of change."

How to Fix This: Ensure that your entire team has equal access to opportunities to grow and promote within the organization. In order for this to work, note that there's no room for bias in your hiring and promoting practices. Base these practices on what matters - merit.

Know When To Ask For Help

Businesses are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at unparalleled rates. So why do so many of them fall flat and even backfire? One reason is that they don't have a team prepared to train or empower their employees on these issues, which can end up backfiring.

It's tempting to think that your own team can shoulder the entire responsibility of DEI training, but sensitive topics require pros who know how to facilitate productive and safe conversations, Ben Travis, Founder of HR Chief. "External DEI consultants can help businesses audit their policies and procedures and educate employees in a way that meets them where they're at. They're equipped to create a custom plan that fits your business culture and can even provide ongoing support."

It's no secret that technology and automation are changing the way we do business. One great example of this is HR software, which can automate tasks that get in the way of equitable hiring. Many companies use such programs to create measurable goals and present results in regular DEI reports.

We covered a lot, so hopefully we were able to help guide you in your DEI practices! We’ve seen these mistakes time and time again, so we’re happy to warn you about them beforehand. That being said, we wish you the best of luck in your DEI initiatives moving forward!

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