5 Common Mistakes Organizations Make When Implementing DE&I Strategies

Here are some of the most common mistakes that leaders make when implementing DE&I initiatives, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes.

Recent years have seen a marked shift in the way organisations pursue their DE&I strategies. Leaders are publicly committing to go further, faster, and often set out with the best of intentions around implementing their plans to drive change.  

However, despite their positivity, we can often find that their proposals do not match the outcomes. Missed opportunities or inconsistencies in the results drive complacency instead of camaraderie, and what once was their main priority becomes just a side project – despite how urgently these changes are needed within the workforce and society at large. 

Here are some of the most common mistakes that leaders make in these situations and how you can avoid making them in your own organization. 

Running before you can walk

There are so many ways to deliver change, but without a comprehensive understanding of where your business currently stands with regard to its DE&I strategy and ambitions, leaders cannot set realistic targets or move forward with plans that have long-term benefits. I always say if you don’t measure it, you don’t treasure it. Companies and leadership teams who haven’t set the criteria to track their progress are running before they can walk and set themselves up to fail.  

Without an awareness of how far you’ve come along your path, you could run out of steam by the time you reach the final hurdle. Therefore, it’s important to prioritize and understand where you are in comparison to where you want to get to with your DE&I strategies. Organizations must conduct a detailed baseline review of all their people processes to establish areas of improvement and interrogate their business strategy, vision, and purpose.  

Identify your challenges and exactly how you will overcome them, seeking support from mentors, allies, and sponsors as you go. Doing so ensures that meaningful targets and processes can be put in place to close the gaps with the support of the wider organization, rather than just one leader trying to leap over a chasm in the pursuit of unsustainable change.  

Making commitments without the capabilities

Not providing your DE&I leaders with the mandate or the budget to make the necessary changes is like giving them a bicycle without wheels. You know what it is that you’re trying to achieve, but it just won’t be possible.  

A limited mandate and a lack of infrastructure for leaders who want to make positive strides could be seen as a performative commitment to DE&I. For example, if you want to create a more diverse talent pipeline, you need the ability to assess and make changes to your development plans, talent management, and recruitment decisions. Likewise, if you have committed to reviewing your training, you need to have the capacity to introduce new ideas that will be undertaken by the entire organization – not just one or two members within your own team. Without the appropriate budget or resources, these plans will remain as ideas.  

When deciding on your DE&I plans, you must ensure that there is consensus and support from the most senior levels in the organization. The message that real change requires change must be prominent when coming from the CEO’s office and also the Board. Showing a real commitment to your plans from the top down shows how serious you are about your actions.  

Overlooking those most impacted by change

In the rush and excitement of launching new initiatives, organizations can often make the mistake of following the narrow path of what they think is the solution – rather than what would actually support those most impacted by the changes. Failing to listen often means these plans are implemented without support, with people feeling that change is happening to them rather than with them. 

To create sustainable change and engagement, the people who are most impacted must be involved in the design, delivery, and assessment of new DE&I programs. Encourage their input and sharing of lived experiences to get a true reflection on how your company can help them, ensuring that whatever suggestions they make are actively pursued. Listening without action is ineffective and contributes to a lack of engagement and a sense of belonging.  

Failing to recognize and reward change

When organizations meet their targets, they celebrate in many ways. Dividends, bonuses, employee of the month awards. So why is it any different when your DE&I goals are met? 

If there are no consequences or rewards for taking decisive action, then there is no point in having a DE&I strategy or leader in place. You’re simply asking them to do the work for free – something that too often happens to those in under-represented groups within the workplace already. Incentives must be offered to encourage your people to lead the change and reach your organization’s goals. Likewise, a failure to celebrate your DE&I successes suggests that it isn’t something you consider worth recognizing.  

Everyone needs encouragement, and acknowledging your wins – no matter how big or small they are – can help keep people motivated as you proceed along your organization’s DE&I journey. Test the appetite of your leaders, and especially your people managers, for rewards. Develop meaningful targets and introduce creative incentives to keep people engaged with the change agenda and stretch to reach these goals.  

Not leading with love and purpose

One of the biggest mistakes that I see many organizations make is the absence of love in their day-to-day activities and long-term strategies. These are leaders who act only for the benefit of themselves and their progression, not looking deeper at how their role serves others and why DE&I is important from a moral, ethical, and commercial standpoint.  

When a leader and an organization are driven by love – that is, the unconditional acceptance of the self and others – they act in service of a higher purpose. They know that real change lies in the hands of the people, and it encourages and compels leaders to think of their team first and themselves second. In doing so, they can focus on innovative and creative ways to unleash the potential of everyone in their team – both current and future – through training, development resources, coaching, and more. 

HR leaders must be role models in love-based leadership. Our function is the most critical role in an organization, so we must acknowledge our position of influence and use it to drive the change that is needed in the world of work and within our communities today. Look within yourself and identify areas where you can make a difference as an individual and as a team member, educating yourself on the overt and covert mistakes that are preventing your organization’s DE&I progress. 

Yetunde Hofmann
Yetunde Hofmann is a Portfolio Non-Executive Director; a Board level leadership coach and mentor; global change and inclusion advisor; author of Beyond Engagement; and Founder of the Solaris Executive Leadership Development Academy.