5 Mistakes That Can Derail Your Company’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

Creating and fostering a sense of belonging among employees begins with developing and executing an effective diversity and inclusion policy.

Diversity and inclusion- training magazine

As we enter 2021 with a raised consciousness about issues of social injustice and racial and socioeconomic inequity, most company leaders are realizing the importance of diversity and inclusion. Crafting a diverse and inclusive workplace culture is both the right thing to do and critical to corporate survival today. In fact, research by BetterUp on the topic of inclusiveness or “belonging,” bears this out.

Employees experience an increase in job performance, are less likely to leave their jobs, and take fewer sick days by feeling a strong sense of workplace belonging. This is also shown in a study of more than 1,700 employees across a variety of industries. Also, companies that fail at belonging lose tens of millions in productivity gains every year. Furthermore, workplace exclusion negatively impacts employee performance. Conversely, higher measures of workplace belonging lead to a 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent reduction in turnover risk, and a 75 percent decrease in employee sick days.

Creating and fostering a sense of belonging among employees — especially at a large, global organization — starts at its most basic foundation with the development and implementation of an effective Diversity and Inclusion (D+I) policy. Unfortunately, however, too many companies fall into a few of the same common traps that can sink even the best intentions.

Five Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Not having enough visible, senior-level sponsorship for your D&I initiatives. Achieving true diversity and inclusion across your company’s workforce is not just an “HR problem” or HR’s responsibility; it’s something that needs to be communicated and modeled by your leaders, who work to engage employees at all levels of the company down to the front lines. It’s also most importantly about aligning the organization’s response authentically to the company’s mission. For example, at BetterUp, we offer in-kind coaching, scholarships for coach training and make every effort to ensure we are designing for inclusion in all of our products and services.
  2. Failing to see that D&I is more than a specific program or one-time event. Instead of a “check-the-box” approach, companies need to integrate diversity and inclusion messaging, values and practices into all areas of company operations at all levels and be implemented as an ongoing effort. An effective diversity policy needs to be part of your company’s overall business strategy and be communicated and reinforced consistently in many ways or it won’t drive meaningful change. Many companies implement high-profile diversity education workshops that garner lots of publicity, but that is only the tip of the iceberg for the ongoing work that needs to happen to truly effect change.
  3. Creating a Diversity & Inclusion position or department but neglecting to allocate the needed resources (budget and headcount, time for meetings, and measurement tools) to achieve success. It’s not uncommon for us to see Chief Diversity Officers given lofty goals but a very limited budget and resources. Instead, you need to be committed from the start to invest an ongoing, dedicated amount of time, staff, and funds to reach measurable goals.
  4. Forgetting about the middle management level as a critical driver of your diversity initiatives and goals. Too often companies put out a statement on diversity from the CEO and then the issue goes to the HR department to “take care of” with a policy book and some mandated employee training courses and e-books. But what we know from our work helping companies drive transformation, is that change happens at the front lines. It’s the mid-level managers, who typically lead two-thirds of an organization, that have a disproportionate influence on the organization’s culture.
  5. Using performance metrics that are too limited and unidimensional. Too often, companies narrowly define success in diversity and inclusion as achievement of demographic diversity in terms of numbers. But it’s equally important to consider and measure employee sentiments around belonging, self-awareness, and psychological safety, looking at whether your employees genuinely believe they can authentically bring their whole selves to work and that all of your community members feel embraced and heard.

Overall, diversity is much more than numbers on a page—it’s the achievement of a widespread sense of belonging and a shared sense of purpose among your workforce. And the great news is that we know this sense of belonging can be cultivated through coaching and leadership modeling. In fact, leaders who rate high in inclusivity are also 2.5x more likely to have direct reports who feel they belong. So take the time to clear a path through all-too-common minefields and map out a new route for your diversity, equity, and inclusion plan that reframes the discussion to meet your goals.

Eduardo Medina
Eduardo is the co-founder and COO at BetterUp, a global leader in mobile-based, personalized coaching for professionals. Eduardo brings both a successful operational track record and personal passion for leadership development to his role. As COO, he leads work in coaching, curriculum, and assessment, and is responsible for the delivery and impact of BetterUp’s products and programs to its growing customer base. Prior to BetterUp, Eduardo held management positions at Altamont Capital Partners and Bain & Company. He serves in leadership capacities for community organizations such as Youth Leadership America, De Marillac Academy and Malama Honua Charter School. Eduardo holds a B.S. in Business from the University of Southern California.