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10 Mistakes HR Pros Make With DEI Initiatives

How to find suitable solutions for common DEI mistakes

by Nikhil Bendre

When working in HR, particularly within an organization’s DEI initiatives, you must possess certain degrees of sensitivity, sensibility, and awareness. After all, these initiatives directly pertain to the people within your company and making sure that each and every team member is included, supported, and appreciated. When done correctly, DEI is a beautiful thing that goes towards maintaining 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 an unbiased HR software, such as GoCo, 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. That being said, 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.

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

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!

  • Failing to Understand That There is No 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 are individual to each community for the most part. Therefore, there is absolutely no way that one DEI initiative can adequately address the full scope of what DEI needs to cover.

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

  • 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 the LGBTQIA+. Therefore, while an organization may be pouring an abundance of effort into initiatives towards these communities, our disabled team members could be getting overlooked. 

How to Fix This: Keep your disabled team members 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, cisgendered, 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 are focusing on and convey that it is 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 or 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 are 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 is not enough for them to merely show up – they are 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

If someone from a marginalized community does not want to, IT IS 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 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 judgement 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.

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 is no room for bias in your hiring and promoting practices. Base these practices on what matters – merit.

  • Not Realizing that Diversity Does Not Inherently Imply Inclusion

This one is almost a more generalized version of the last issue we discussed. 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. It is extremely 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: Prioritize amplifying the marginalized voices in your company. Corporate culture is guilty of placing more significance in what the white men have to say and not nearly enough in equally/more qualified minorities. Actively work their perspectives into your business operations and consider their points of view. 

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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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