Why DEI Councils Fail

Aug 16, 2021

Right now there are lots of folks forming DEI councils throughout this country. Some companies have had their councils in place for many years. But are they working effectively? No, most of them are not effective or successful.

The proof is in the data. In 2020, a Monmouth University poll said 76 percent of Americans believed that racial discrimination was a problem in the workplace. And race is just one issue. 

Sure, the intent is there. To create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. But building a successful DEI council takes a whole lot more than good intentions. So, exactly why are DEI councils failing? Here are a few big reasons. 

There’s no clear definition of DEI 

Diversity is not the ultimate goal. It is part of the road to equity, which is what companies should be striving for. Too many DEI councils are focused solely on the hiring process. They want their workforce to represent different backgrounds. But they are doing too little to promote equity and inclusion once new folks join the team. 

Let’s break it down. First, diversity efforts includes more than people of color. Ideally, there should be people in your company from all different types of lived experiences that includes race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, and socioeconomic class just to name a few. These different perspectives based on different life experiences will be the bread and butter of your business now and in the future. 

Now for the entrée. The sustenance. Inclusion is more than accepting employees from different backgrounds into your workplace. It is accepting them as they are. How many people have had to conform to an organizational culture that’s reflective of the white supremacy and male dominance that is still ingrained in workplace culture? 

Without changing the structure of your workplace to accept and celebrate the differences of your employees, the people that you are hiring for their diverse perspectives will either be stifled because they don’t feel comfortable, or worse, they will leave.  

Equity is taking the organizational culture  and stripping it of most of its white and male dominant practices and morphing it into something new, something exciting, something equal. It is listening to what people in your company truly need to thrive, and providing that for them so that they can be successful for themselves and you. Yes, the needs will be different. Equity is recognizing those differences, and tending to each one. 

Doing DEI is more than a publicity stunt—it’s action

DEI councils are not new. But with more focus and attention placed on equity around the world, companies are scurrying to heed the call and secure a spot on the right side of history. Organizations are under a microscope, as consumers choose to support companies who are instituting  DEI. 

Right now, what is evident is that companies are spending more time and money on promoting their work externally, instead of making real changes internally.  They don’t have strategies, they don’t have plans, they don’t have resources. 

Again, the proof is in the data. And you know I love data. 

After the murder of George Floyd and nationwide call to action, companies jumped onboard. A Muck Rack survey found that 74 percent of respondents said they were optimistic about their organization’s commitment to DEI. But only 53 percent said DEI training is required. And 40 percent said their organization’s budget did not fund DEI. 

Forming a successful DEI council takes work. And that work takes time, money, and leadership. 

Like any successful team will tell you, success requires consistent training, direction from knowledgeable and skillful leaders, and participation from all team members. 

Lack of participation from all levels

One of the biggest problems I see when working with an organization is that the leadership team is not involved. And when the leadership is not involved, the budget is smaller. Participation is lower. And there are less incentives for others to get involved. 

Leaders, if you want to be successful in building a strong DEI council that gets stuff done, then getting involved is non-negotiable. Be involved in the planning process, make sure your budget is sufficient to fund consistent training for both your members of your council and employees, give incentives for having people join the council — especially underrepresented folks. 

If the leaders of your organization are not committed to DEI work in the company, employees will take notice. 

Employees want to know that the CEO hears them, and sees them, and cares. 

That is where a successful DEI council begins. 

Want to learn more about what it takes to thrive? To move your council from aspiration to action? My name is Ericka. Here’s a little bit about who I am and how we can work together to create a successful DEI council for your organization.

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