Four Reasons Why Corporate Diversity Initiatives Fail


Diversity and Inclusion priority.

U.S. Hispanic Initiative.

Hispanic Forum.

Employee Resource Group.

These are just a few examples of company led initiatives focused on minority groups. I know this space well having volunteered for and assigned to many such groups in my more than two decades long career.

It is why I can say unapologetically that all, if not most of those corporate initiatives are setup to fail. The often well intended, but naive priority misses its mark for four reasons: visibility, frequency, proximity and accountability.

That’s the difference between a corporate symbolic gesture and real commitment to changing the corporate culture. It’s not hard to find what’s most important to a company because it is always front and center.

It’s ironic to me that the initiative to provide greater visibility to a community often lacks visibility itself. I’m most often part of U.S. Hispanic focused teams. For all the talk about being inclusive and reflective of them; centered content does not get the top billing it deserves. They’re placed in forgettable slots reserved for program fillers and are the first to get cut due to time or space constraints. The committee pats themselves on the back for the few bread crumbs that do make it through, but then are bewildered when those tokens do not bare fruit.

Which brings us to failure number two: frequency. For any message to get through it needs to be consistent. If you’re showing up once a year for Hispanic Heritage Month or worse the patronizing, land mine riddled Cinco de Mayo – just stop reading this article. You’re damaged beyond repair and I can’t help you. I don’t want to help you.

Any strategy needs frequency in order for its intended audience to notice and understand. Diversity initiatives should not be adopted by companies for a finite time; have expiration dates. They should be standard operating procedure considering the impact diversity has on businesses.

The third reason diversity initiatives fail is proximity. The content developers must be a member of the audience you’re trying to reach. I can’t tell you how many arrogant executives speak as if they know better than employees who are part of the target community. While I am a champion of women and African-American issues; I’m not a woman and I’m not African-American. I would never pretend to be the right person to lead initiatives in reaching those two groups. That’s not to say that my experience and interest wouldn’t be of value in a larger discussion; it’s just that the point persons should be representatives of those groups. There are many nuances in developing focused messages which require persons who have first hand experiences because of race, age, gender, sexual orientation and other. In order for content to be authentic it requires authors who walk in the shoes of those you’re trying to connect with.

Now an area where all executives should show up, but don’t more often than not is accountability. The fourth reason why diversity initiatives fail is because of a lack of responsibility beginning with the C suite. And it trickles down. The front line cares about what the back office determined as important. There’s no greater motivation than to know that the diversity initiative will be part of one’s performance review. It’s a whole new perspective when an employee understands that their salary increase and promotion are tied to their ability to meet the goals of the company priority. This is how conversations turn into actions.

Visibility, frequency, proximity and accountability make up the formula for the litmus test I use in determining how serious an organization is about their diversity initiative. Failure to succeed on any of those four counts means company leaders are only giving it and you lip service.

Hugo Balta