Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and
Creating a Sustainable Culture of Integrity
Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs are evolving on almost a daily basis. Many books published in the field during the past few years are already outmoded. According to research by McKinsey, SHRM, Glassdoor, Business Insider, Harvard Business Review, Inc. and more, many of the initiatives and approaches that have been the foundation of employee DEI training programs over the past decade in particular have by and large failed, or outcomes are mixed at best. There’s little agreement on what is actually moving the needle in terms of organizational culture change in eliminating the worn-out, bug-ridden status quo of discrimination and outright hatred toward the myriad of marginalized populations who are the recipients of this divisive behavior, including people of color; LQBTG+, women, religion/faith, age, class, weight, demographics, educational, and physical and neuro-disabilities. Many are in more than one group, and this intersectionality compounds their daily stress on top of other "elephant in the room" behaviors.
The abstract of study published in the January 2022 issue of the Annual Review of Psychology titled "Diversity Training Goals, Limitations, and Promise: A Review of the Multidisciplinary Literature" includes the following:
"In examining hundreds of articles on the topic, we discovered that the literature is amorphous and complex and does not allow us to reach decisive conclusions regarding best practices in diversity training. We note that scholars of diversity training, when testing the efficacy of their approaches, too often use proxy measures for success that are far removed from the types of consequential outcomes that reflect the purported goals of such trainings. We suggest that the enthusiasm for, and monetary investment in, diversity training has outpaced the available evidence that such programs are effective in achieving their goals. We recommend that researchers and practitioners work together for future investigations to propel the science of diversity training forward."
Anyone who has been doing advocacy and allyship work in workplace DEI in some capacity (directly and indirectly) has likely conducted company-wide surveys, and based on those random metrics recommended programs and best practices that ended up not having the results they intended. Yet some of them are still being trotted out as “check the box solutions” that myopically center themselves on symptoms, not root causes. And when generic workplace trainings such as unconscious bias are mandatory, those who have those biases don’t automatically take ownership for them and reverse course. In fact, their reaction is often to give lip service to demonstrate they’re complying when in fact they are just going through the motions on a surface level while angrily digging in deeper - like many human beings do when they are told what to think and how to act that is contrary to their long-held mindset of what they believe is justifiable discrimination. These are often deeply ingrained behavioral habit grooves that are strengthened by the deep human need to belong that compounds confirmation bias, not eliminates it. The origins of when this began often begins in childhood when they adopt the beliefs of their parents and friends without questioning them.
Often the excuse given for these acts of inhumanity in the workplace that we constantly hear is that cultural change takes a long time. However, repeating that mantra only reinforces a diseased status quo in not doing the hard, challenging, and messy work of internal change, both individually and collectively. Additionally, even if an organization has a Chief DEI Officer, HR is often solely tasked with implementing programs that don’t get to the roots of the problem.
Part of the reason why is that it is
also an ethical risk.
Just like our core position that unaddressed/improperly addressed workplace stress is an organizational ethical risk, the same goes for any company that does not take actions beyond “raising awareness” and window dressing. Any organizational culture that defines itself as being grounded in ethical values, principles and processes simply must have an authentic, transparent culture of integrity – and integrity is not measured in fractions or percentages. You either have it, or you don’t.
Psychological Safety and Workplace Inclusion
While there is not one definitive answer to breaking though the dysfunctional status quo, a universally good place to begin is with one of the major components of this Toolkit: Psychological Safety. A prevailing thought amongst leaders who are committed to DEI through creating an abiding workplace culture of integrity (and not just capitalizing on the latest “trend”) is if an organization collectively and consciously works to create an environment wherein everyone has what Dr. Timothy Clark defines as the Four Stages of Psychological Safety: Inclusion Safety, Learner Safety, Contributor Safety, and Challenger Safety. This is good for every human being, without exception, without prompting reactive and defensive behaviors by those whose ingrained patterns of discrimination are also rooted in misplaced grievances that trigger defensive reactions.
Psychological Safety is not a magic panacea that will “fix” racism and discrimination against marginalized employees, yet it’s a non-negotiable component in our Toolkit's whole systems approach to building a harmonious workplace environment that addresses root causes and is aligned with an organization's core commitment to a sustainable culture of integrity.
Such an organization is one that proactively engages in a respectful, dignified wall-breaking, and inter-group “blending of the tones” of a diverse workplace populace instead of just putting them all in the same space and hoping a one-day training creates unity. Diverse coexistence within the workplace doesn’t imply everyone is living and working in harmony; it’s similar to tolerance in that divisive mindsets can also be included and nothing changes. Marginalized populations deserve equality as all of us fellow imperfect human beings, who are often just doing our best to make it through the day, the month, the year – just like you.
"Think about the traditional approaches most organizations take to diversity and inclusion. Many organizations have made great strides to create diverse organizations, but they’re still not inclusive. Others achieve a token representation of the full range of human differences and congratulate themselves as if they have an inclusive culture. Still others train employees to be inclusive by teaching them awareness, understanding and appreciation for differences. That’s nice, but it’s a coast of paint. When we get threatened, we get defensive, take counsel from our fears, and go back to our default settings of learned bias. A better way is to give people opportunities to practice inclusion. Make it experiential by creating diverse teams and assigning individuals to diverse mentoring or peer coaching relationships."
- Dr. Timothy R. Clark,
The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety:
Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation