One stick figure stands on a table and says, “I declare this office to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive!” Another says “You can’t just say those words and expect something to happen.”
Hi there,

We’re in the thick of Pride Month, a time of year when the corporate DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) machine is in full swing. You know the drill: rainbow-ified company logos, colorful limited-edition merch, and an onslaught of LinkedIn posts from companies and executives applauding their own diversity initiatives.

Over the years, DEI has ballooned into a massive industry, projected to hit $15.4 billion by 2026. Needless to say, while this month’s spotlight is on LGBTQ+ issues, topics like gender equality and racial justice are also major focuses.

But there’s a problem with all this. As DEI consultant Lily Zheng has put it, there’s a big, poorly kept secret in the field: it doesn’t work. Or at least, it doesn’t work as well as it’s supposed to. More troublingly, there’s evidence that common DEI initiatives can actually make things worse if they’re not handled well.

How can DEI end up backfiring? And what needs to change in order for these initiatives to really have an impact? That’s what we’re getting into today. Happy pride! 🌈

Until next time,

Katie, Sarah, and the earnestly proud team @ TDL
📧 Want more evidence-based tips to help make your organization more inclusive? Sign up for the TDL newsletter here.
Today’s topics 👀
❓ Deep Dive: Why DEI (Often) Doesn’t Work
🔍 Field Notes: Sonia Kang on Inclusive HR
🌈 Viewpoints: Doing DEI Better
❓ Why DEI (Often) Doesn’t Work

+ We misunderstand bias. Diversity trainings (and other popular DEI initiatives) assume that simply making people aware of their biases is enough to change behavior. But that’s not true. To reduce discrimination, what we actually need is structural changes.

+ We incentivize the wrong thing. We often fixate on inputs, when we should be focusing on outcomes. In the case of DEI, we applaud organizations who announce their intentions to do better —  but we don’t wait to see whether they actually do it. 

+ We’re expecting too much. In recent years, the “business case” for DEI has gotten a lot of press: boost diversity and boost the bottom line, too. Unfortunately, the reality is a lot more complicated, and simply increasing diversity rarely leads to direct upticks in profit. This misalignment of expectations can backfire and leave leaders skeptical. 

+ We fall for the illusion of equity. DEI efforts may predispose us to view organizations (and their people) in a positive light. That sounds like a good thing, but it can also lead us to look the other way when said organizations behave inequitably. TDL’s Jeffrey To has written about how diversity statements, often included in job postings, can blind us to unfair practices.

🔍 FIELD NOTES: Sonia Kang on Inclusive HR

Impactful DEI requires a more holistic approach. Listen to our interview with Professor Sonia Kang, Canada Research Chair in Identity, Diversity, and Inclusion, about what organizations need to do to become truly inclusive. 

“Oftentimes, organizations give up really easily when they’re like, ‘Oh, we can’t find candidates from whatever group.’ You have to look harder if you can’t right away, and mostly it’s because your network is not set up to help you find people other than people who already work there or are like yourself.”

🌈 Doing DEI Better

What needs to happen in order for DEI to have a real impact? Here are a few suggestions.

+ Reframe things in a positive light. When people feel pressured or forced to comply with DEI programs, the risk of backfire increases. On the flipside, when people are “called in” and encouraged to engage voluntarily, participants are more likely to take DEI to heart.

+ Set more specific goals. DEI programs with vague, all-encompassing goals tend to fizzle out, which ultimately undermines employee trust in their organization. Goals set arbitrarily by company leaders may not even reflect the needs and priorities of the people these programs are supposed to help.  

+ Identify KPIs — and talk about them publicly. Data is a necessary foundation for any DEI initiative. For starters, there’s no way to know whether or not you’re having an impact if you’re not tracking key metrics. And announcing these KPIs keeps organizations accountable, meaning there’s a real incentive to keep working toward them.

+ Broaden your horizons. Hiring a more diverse team, updating language policies, and educational workshops can all play a role in a solid DEI strategy. But they’re not enough on their own. Organizations need to take a long-term, holistic view of inclusion in order to have a real impact.  This model from McKinsey outlines some practical strategies for doing just that.

The Readiness Gap for DEI.
A chart titled “The Readiness Gap for DEI.” While 86% agree that embedding DEI into their organization’s everyday practice is important, only 25% say that their organization is “very ready” to do so. (Source: Deloitte)
Naive Realism
We all have a tendency to assume that our perception of reality is the objectively correct one. This can blind us to the ways that different groups might experience the workplace differently, and hold back our DEI efforts. Read more about our so-called naive realism on the TDL website.
Opportunities in Behavioral Science

TDL is hiring! We’re hiring for a number of positions, both remote and based in our Montreal office. Some open roles include: 

  • • Associate Project Leader TEST2
  • • UX Writer

Find out more by visiting our careers portal

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