Why Your Company’s Diversity Team and Initiatives are Ineffective.

Diversity has become a side show in many companies, organizations, and even social media. It’s almost like the newly used peer pressure statement, “everybody is doing it.” The question is are they doing it right? People all over this nation are using this term as a “feel good” reference to perpetrate the pretending of making an effort to promote equity and equality within their work place. For years we have evolved in our language of discussing issues of discrimination with feel good terms such as:

  • Multicultural/-ism
  • Inclusion
  • Diversity
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Cultural Competency
  • Cultural Humility
  • Race and Equity
  • Equality

And the list goes on! The interesting thing about the terminology is though it has evolved almost every decade our systems to address diversity in our work places have unfortunately not evolved at the same rate. Companies are literally doing the same thing we have been doing for years, and expecting different results. Insanity right? Here are some stats that might help to drive the point home (Data Provided by Institute for Women’s Policy, 2014, Huffington Post, 2014 and Patten, 2016):

  • The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings was 78.6 percent for full-time/year-round workers in 2014. This means the gender wage gap for full-time/year-round workers is 21.4 percent. Women’s median annual earnings in 2014 were $39,621 compared with $50,383 for men
  • But most women of color can expect to lose out on a lot more. When compared to the earnings of white men, that wage loss figure rises to $883,040 for Native American women, $877,480 for black women and $1,007,080 for Latinas.
  • As of July 2016, Large racial and gender wage gaps in the U.S. remain, even as they have narrowed in some cases over the years. Among full- and part-time workers in the U.S., blacks in 2015 earned just 75% as much as whites in median hourly earnings and women earned 83% as much as men.
  • Black and Hispanic men, for their part, have made no progress in narrowing the wage gap with white men since 1980, in part because there have been no improvements in the hourly earnings of white, black or Hispanic men over this 35-year period. As a result, black men earned the same 73% share of white men’s hourly earnings in 1980 as they did in 2015, and Hispanic men earned 69% of white men’s earnings in 2015 compared with 71% in 1980.
  • The Williams Institute finds that gay and bisexual men earn 10 percent to 32 percent less than similarly qualified heterosexual men, in a meta-analysis of 12 studies examining earnings and sexual orientation in the United States. This is true even when controlling for education, race, occupation, and years of work experience.
  • Transgender individuals also face significant wage disparities on the job. This is especially true for transgender women. One study found that the earnings of female transgender workers fell by nearly one-third following their gender transitions. Interestingly, that same study found that the earnings of male transgender workers slightly increased following their transition. As such, transgender men may actually experience a wage advantage rather than a wage penalty.

I am not here to merely focus on statistics that many of us know. Although the constant reminder is very necessary. I’m here to give you some insight into why this is happening even though companies are launching Diversity departments, roles, and in some cases teams to address the issue.  Here are a number of ineffective ways companies have made pitiful attempts to bring diversity, equity, equality or whatever the else you want to call it, to the workplace:

  1. Internal Affinity or Equity Groups: These groups have been around for years and they provide a support system for people who have been discriminated against or identify with some kind of minority population in the workplace. These groups often hold meetings, which turn into venting sessions. They also have events to promote cultural differences and celebrate awareness. I am not criticizing the intentions of these groups and there presence. They provide support for those who engage, but they do not create sustainable systemic internal change. These groups are often comprised of middle, lower, and non management staff who do not individually have influence and power in a company and a lack of training on how to be structurally impactful as opposed to supportive. These groups are often non-white and are seen as exclusionary to Whites (let’s not even get on the fragility that exists). What happens here is employees who are not a part of these groups begin to complain, and leadership, usually made up of Whites, takes notes and whether conscious or not starts to pull support for these groups. I think these groups are necessary, just not impactful for creating sustainable diversity practices.
  2. Internal Volunteer Diversity /Race and Equity/ Teams: Here you have a group of passionate employees who see issues of discrimination and want something help create positive change in the company. They are also usually comprised of your over worked, under paid employees who have enough responsibility on their plate just filling their functional roles. Newsflash: Diversity should already be a part of their functional roles, it’s not! They meet every now and then and discuss challenges within the company. Leadership (Executive and Senior) usually throws a small budget at these teams to host trainings, cultural celebrations (usually insulting to the culture they are celebrating because of the only recognition of surface level cultural awareness). They serve as a liaison between company leadership and staff. They don’t have influential power and like affinity groups are often made up of middle, lower, and non management staff who do not individually have influence and power in a company and a lack of training on how to be structurally impactful as opposed to supportive. Many of these people have attended race and equity trainings and now feel equipped to train and help others, you are not! You’ve learned some key facts, buzzwords, and have had a moment or two of awakening, that does not make you diversified! This group will often be comprised also of people who have agendas for their own self interest and can passively become a den of exactly that, self interest. There are the representatives for Racial Equality, LGBTQ rights, Women’s rights, etc. What many people don’t realize is that this creates this false “impression of oppression.” Meaning, that everyone wants their rights heard and re wiling to step on the necks of others to climb the ladder to leadership to make their cause priority. This is not helpful, it is actually harmful to the notion of equity and equality because it is a form of institutional discrimination.
  3. Unsupported Diversity Leadership Roles: Many large companies have started to hire or already have Chief Diversity Officers, Directors of Diversity, etc. These people are full-time salaried employees and their jobs are usually hired to develop, implement and monitor programs that promote diversity within the company. This role is responsible for developing training and initiatives to create and foster an open and inclusive environment. These roles also have the challenge of working with HR departments (who are made up of a majority of White staff and leaders and uniformed on diversity issues) to address and solve diversity issues. These roles, maybe paid fairly well. Salary.com 2016, shows that the median annual Top Diversity Executive salary is $162,210, as of July 29, 2016, with a range usually between $138,759-$211,093, however this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors. The largest salaries usually exist in the biggest companies. Let’s do some simple math, if you are investing say 175,000 and generous enough to give this role a budget of $100,000/ year, you are investing $275,000 for diversity. If your company is made up of 100,000+ employees that is approximately $2.75 per employee. Does that sound like prioritizing diversity to you? How do you expect a 1-3 person team in a company to support the multiple components of diversity that exist in your company efficiently?  Keep reading.
  4. Funding: Funding is a major issue. Many businesses and institutions are cutting back on their budgets. The areas of diversity and inclusion tend to have the lowest or even non-existent budgets. This area is self explanatory. Leadership can not throw a small amount of money at a large problem and then expect it to go away. Solving diversity issues will take you time (years even), MONEY, and continual attention! If companies actually worked to embed diversity into functional teams it wouldn’t need a separate budget to function. Think about it, if you have to create a separate budget to make it happen, it becomes a separate isolated entity ad topic.

These are just some of the issues that companies face when trying to create sustainable diversity practices.

Here are a few summaries of some potential solutions. Approaches that companies don’t often take because of fear and a lack of “how to knowledge.”

  1. Set Goals and Deliverables: Here you must make diversity goals for your teams from senior leadership, executives, all the way down to band levels that start at the beginning. Every employee needs diversity as part of their professional development. Set goals and stop looking at them as “Affirmative Action” goals, they are not that! The one population that benefitted from affirmative action was White women, let’s not label goals according to that policy. Spare us! These goals must be set for your leadership teams, affinity groups, classroom/training and workforce practices, They don’t just live within one team, they live in every team!
  2.  Allocate a Wholesome Budget and Funding: The level of funding should meet the needs of all employees: This is easier said then done, but it is not impossible. There is a certain level of creativity that one must have to address this issue in non traditional ways as opposed to what we’ve been trying and failing at as a society. Do better, get better results
  3. Consistent Data Collection and Analysis: Company systems for collecting demographic data and trends in company practices has got to improve. You have got to start tracking retention outcomes, employee satisfaction rates, wages, etc demographically if you want to see where and potentially why inequities might exist. Collecting data for outcomes is not where you stop, you must start. You need a tool to measure your progress overtime. Remember diversity work takes time, it is not just a one-stop training, or 6 month project it is a company wide and long project.

Companies have to understand that you will make mistakes, and change will not come as fast as you would like it to happen. Your internal operations are where you start change initiatives first. If there is disproportionality in your operations there will always be disproportionality in your outcomes.  We all want to change the world we live in, how about you start with changing the world you work in first.

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