Why Most Diversity Initiatives Fail
By Michael Soon Lee
past twenty years it has become painfully obvious that the majority
of diversity initiatives fail to achieve their stated goals and
objectives. The reason for this failure can be made obvious by
reviewing a recent job description for a diversity consultant at a
major law firm. The company wanted a high-level person who was
capable of working with powerful attorneys to attract a greater
diversity of staff into the company, reduce turnover of minority
attorneys, increase involvement of affinity groups throughout the
organization, develop and deliver multicultural sensitivity training
to offices throughout the world and to help each office with their
own unique diversity challenges.
position had no support staff, was described as “a
sixteen-hour-a-day job” and had gone unfilled over a year. Is it any
wonder? In addition, this “director level” position reported to the
head of human resources. Any company serious about diversity has the
director of diversity reporting directly to the CEO.
diversity initiatives fail because they are overly ambitious and
under-funded. While seeking to make major structural changes within
an organization, they tend to lack support for the very top. It
shouldn’t be a surprise that no one wants to take on such a job.
When some unsuspecting soul does accept the challenge they are
usually frustrated and ineffective. One of the major reasons
diversity initiatives fail is because they aren’t “SMART.” That is
= Specific. For example, exactly how much do you want to increase
the diversity of your work force? Most companies are afraid to set
targets because they’re afraid they won’t reach them. To accomplish
such a goal would require a total change in the way prospective
employees are hired and trained. The standard interview process
screens out people from cultures who tend not to be as verbal as
white Americans, such as Hispanics and Asians.
= Measurable. Most companies don’t track or make available employee
retention numbers by race. The problem with most diversity
initiatives is that management feels they are working or not
working. Diversity initiatives can be measured if you have solid and
consistent data from inception to completion. Given the right
information, you can show positive or negative change and
return-on-investment to four decimal points. However, you must be
clear on what outcomes you are trying to measure so you can track
the proper inputs.
= Achievable. A diversity initiative must be supported by attitudes,
abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. Without
support from the top, these resources will just be another “nice to
have” rather than a “need to have.” Remember that to plan an
initiative is strategic while implementing it is operational. How
could any one person be both strategic and operational without being
schizophrenic? A director of diversity is a strategic position while
implementation is operational, which means that in order to develop
and carry out effective diversity initiatives you will need at least
two people plus support staff for both. To tackle a major diversity
education initiative requires another fulltime person plus support
staff and on it goes, depending on what you want to accomplish. You
can see why most diversity initiatives are overly ambitious and
under-funded. It requires a major commitment, not just a token
= Realistic. A diversity initiative must be an objective toward
which the company must be willing and able to achieve. The goal can
be both ambitious and realistic but should be consistent with the
mission of the company. The leader of the initiative and others must
truly believe that it can be accomplished. If the company has never
accomplished anything similar in the past, what conditions have
changed to make it possible to achieve this goal now? You can’t
expect a ninety-minute seminar to fix a diversity challenge that
took years to develop. The rough rule of thumb is that it takes
about half as long to resolve a problem as it took to develop, if
you have the full support of management. So if an issue has been
festering for six, years expect it to take three years to fix.
Unfortunately, most initiatives are rarely given this long to work.
= Timely. There must be a deadline for accomplishment of the
initiative and every step leading up to its completion. A deadline
is the soonest anything will ever be accomplished so they are
crucial. Every step needed to implement the initiative must have a
specific deadline. In addition, diversity initiatives must be
tracked against known benchmarks. The easiest way to develop a
timeline is to plan backwards. What is the specific outcome you are
trying to achieve and by when? Next, ask, “What is the step that
must be accomplished just before that and when must it be done to
reach the outcome by the deadline?” Then consider the step before
that and just keep going until you get to the very first step and
you will clearly see when you must start the program to reach your
goal by the due date. What most companies discover after going
through this exercise is that they must start a diversity initiative
much earlier than originally thought.
small and be specific with your diversity initiatives. Make sure
they have the staffing and resources needed to accomplish its goals.
You would never open a director-level position without proper
support staff because such a person should be planning and
coordinating, not doing paperwork or reports. If you remove the word
“diversity” from the position title, does it have equivalent
resources as comparable jobs?
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