Why Diversity Programs Fail? - balancenow

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  • 10 May
  • by Tim Keith
  • Culture

What has been the typical business approach to diversity?

Iris Bohnet in her recent book ‘What Works, Gender Equality by Design’ describes research that shows that over $8 billion per year is spent by US corporations on diversity training yet there is a ‘dearth of evidence about their efficacy’.  In other words, the training doesn’t work!

My experience within Australia businesses is there is the same lack of success and progress from funding allocated to diversity initiatives. Typically, businesses take adhoc or box ticking approaches. While acknowledging this can generate some sense of satisfaction from executives & employees, brief social media attention, or a small article in the annual report the ongoing impact is limited.  I would liken this to an espresso, with immediate positive impact that quickly diminishes over time and makes you more tired at the end of the day.

Some examples of the approaches taken by businesses include:

  • Unconscious bias training
  • Inclusive leadership training
  • Women’s network creation
  • Women leadership training
  • Mentoring
  • Recruitment requiring at least one female candidate
  • Flexibility for all roles

Sound familiar? That is not to say these types of programs are not important and valuable.  They are.  However, when completed on their own, without a coherent business diversity strategy or lacking genuine CEO support than they only have the impact of that shot of espresso.

What programs have been shown to improve progress on diversity?

The winner of the HBR McKinsey Award for the best Harvard Business Review article of the year in 2016: “Why diversity programs fail,” by sociology professors Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev provides excellent insight into a variety of programs and the outcomes from their delivery.  Attached to this post is a link to an excellent video on this article.

In summary, the following sorts of programs have had positive impacts on diversity outcomes; mentoring, college recruitment, self-managed teams, diversity taskforce, diversity managers, and voluntary training.

Another important factor was the significant negative impact that ‘mandatory’ training has on outcomes. Having worked in business all my life, and my experience with raising children shows that things people are made to do, usually end up with negative consequences.  When there is a voluntary desire to be involved, contribute or lead, the outcomes are unlimited in possibility.  I can guarantee that there are enough strong, intelligent and influential men and women existing within your workplace who will gladly help champion diversity within your company.  Find them, put them to work, reap the benefits of diverse teams.

How are your diversity programs doing?

Consider all the programs going on in your organisation. Can you quickly point to changes that have happened because of the focus on diversity? Can you see more females reporting to the CEO, in the executive, leading businesses or being hired into roles across the organisation? Does the culture embrace people of all backgrounds? Is the work environment fun, collegiate and innovative?  Do you think there is talk and no action?

In my experience progress on gender diversity only occurs when changes to the entire system take place.  A description of this and a good analogy is contained in our article The Latest on Leaning In. That is our approach at Balance Now. We start with data that gives you factual insight into what is working and what isn’t.  As Iris Bohnet describes in her seminal book, ‘what does not get measured does not get fixed’.

By following the process described in How We Create Change, real progress can be made and more effective return on investment in diversity training can be achieved.

So, stop wasting money on initiatives that are not making progress.  Contact Us to get started, turn talk into action on gender diversity.

Reference, ‘Gender Equality by Design’: Building a More Inclusive (and Productive) Workplace

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