Why most corporate diversity strategies fail and how to ensure yours doesn't

In 2021, it’s saddening to think FTSE 100 companies are still home to fewer than ten female CEOs, and to no black leaders at all.

In spite of all the good intentions, all the talk, not to mention the staggering $19 billion spent annually on training, companies everywhere are failing to shift the dial on diversity. 

The mistake they are making? In their rush to be seen to be fixing the problem, businesses are getting caught in a flurry of copycat activity, a kind of virtue-signalling arms race. 

Getting EDI right:

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Is using umbrella terms such as BAME, LGBT+ and disabled hindering inclusion efforts?

Creating a sense of belonging at work

As they hurry to roll out the same programmes others are rolling out, they are forgetting to take into account the irrational complexity of human nature: the fact that often, although something seems like it ought to work, behavioural science shows us the opposite is true.

Approaches like quotas and unconscious bias training seize on symptoms rather than underlying causes, focusing on the activities people think should change behaviour, instead of what actually does.

At Mind Gym, we specialise in behavioural science - applying our understanding of the highly irrational (but often quite predictable) idiosyncrasies of human behaviour, to help companies work towards a more successful, enduring approach to diversity, equality and inclusion.


The inclusion solution

Fundamental to fixing the diversity dilemma is understanding that diversity without inclusion is meaningless. 

If the culture is not there to ensure all members of staff feel welcome and included, companies create a revolving door where ‘diverse’ talent leaves almost as soon as it arrives.

In order to create an ecosystem where inclusivity is second nature, companies must shift their focus from categorising staff, to celebrating and protecting the individual identities of all members of staff - valuing everyone for the unique traits and experiences they bring to the table.

Only then will companies create the right balance between people feeling special, and feeling like they belong.


Headwinds and tailwinds

The first issue to fix is the categorisation of staff across limited areas.

In the rush to identify the employee groups most in need of support, companies have spotlighted issues like race, gender, disability and sexual orientation but have largely ignored other critical factors which can hold us back at work. 

These include areas like class, physical appearance, adverse childhood experiences and being introverted or extroverted, to name a few - the “headwinds” and “tailwinds” which make some more likely to succeed than others.

These headwinds and tailwinds have an enormous impact on our professional progress and it’s imperative that companies remain as mindful of these as they are of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation to create a genuinely inclusive culture.


The four cornerstones of inclusion

We advocate replacing approaches like unconscious bias training with our science-based, tried-and-tested four-cornerstone approach to inclusion.

This approach is designed to protect the individual identities of every member of staff, ensuring everyone feels accepted and celebrated for who they are, and feels they belong.

  1. Value variety: recognising the infinite factors that can make us different.

  2. Step up: making all staff responsible for building an inclusive culture - if everyone plays their part, this sustains an organically inclusive ecosystem.

  3. Judge wisely: this involves training staff to improve judgement rather than correcting bias. Bias is an inherent part of human nature and impossible to eradicate - but if we improve our ability to judge wisely, we are better equipped to mitigate bias.

  4. Forbid and forgive: lastly, we advise that companies draw clear delineations between unacceptable misbehaviour, and a forgivable ‘misstep’. By making these delineations clear and ensuring staff aren’t terrified of being punished for an honest, well-intentioned mistake, companies allow inclusivity to thrive naturally, rather than allowing ‘diversity’ to become associated with rules and fear. 


If you have a pressing D&I problem you can't get to the bottom of, send in your query here where it will be be answered by our resident D&I specialist Huma Qazi in the next issue of HR magazine. 

Desi Kimmins is chief commercial officer, EMEA at Mind Gym