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By Dr. George Taylor, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University
This article is part of a four-article series on why diversity efforts are failing in the workplace and focuses on developing and integrating meaningful, equity-based business practices.
An additional reason why diversity and inclusion efforts fail is because there is a lack of effort and focus on a specific dimension of diversity. Examples of these diversity dimensions include race, gender, sexual preference and religion.
Diversity Efforts Often Hindered because Organizations Attempt to Be All-Encompassing
In an effort to have an all-encompassing perspective and approach to diversity efforts, a wide net is cast around an organization in the hope that all dimensions can be addressed utilizing a common core of underling initiatives. As noble on the surface as this work may appear, it actually hinders a company’s efforts to implement diversity change and may make the organization worse off in the long run.
The truth is that diversity dimensions are much too complex to pursue a “big tent” approach intended to concurrently address these multiple dimensions. Organizational actions to address racial inequities are different than addressing gender or sexual orientation/sexual preference inequities.
Conversely, diversity dimensions warrant separate problem statements, which will yield a range of distinct approaches and specific initiatives. Instead of following the common practice of oversimplifying diversity change efforts with a series of initiatives designed to address multiple dimensions, it is recommended that organizational leaders commitment to a specific element of diversity.
Evidence-based examination supports this recommendation:
1) Each element of diversity requires a suspension of belief and an inward look of who we are as individuals and how we view ourselves within teams and groups. Assuming that a company has developed and nourished the trust needed in the beginning stages of diversity, a series of discussions should ideally take place. These discussions are important to creating the narrative that shapes the organization’s approach and openness to the diversity change effort.
2) Change implementations are most successful when they are specific and limited in scope. As counterintuitive as this may sound, change efforts, specifically in the area of demographic-centered diversity efforts, that are overly aggressive and broad are more likely to fail.
An underlying reason for this failure is because as humans, we are limited in the amount of stimuli we can internalize and process. For example, a single element of diversity, such as race or religion, consists of multiple perspectives stemming from identity frames, individual and group value differences, as well as differences in the socio-economic status between groups.
3) Each dimension of diversity warrants different measurement interpretations and actions. As an example, an early and common aim to addressing demographic diversity was a tagline that organizations should be reflective of society. However, the actual practice in achieving that aim is often considered a major reason for diversity change effort failure. Companies are much more complex than simple representation of society.
Such aims, as noble as they may appear, are actually detrimental to an organization. Instead, diversity measurements should be considered in the strategic context of the organization and its current and desired cultural state.
Focusing Diversity Efforts on One Diversity Dimension at a Time Is More Effective for Organizations
By pursuing a single dimension of diversity, you create an environment that is committed to understanding diversity at the deep level needed to maintain the trust of employees. Second, the development of a focused core of change initiatives targeted toward a single dimension of diversity serve an organization more efficiently and effectively than a wide range of approaches aimed at multiple dimensions of diversity.
Finally, the information stemming from diversity measures must be considered specific to the strategic context of the organization as well as its current and future ideal cultural state.
The most successful diversity and inclusion change efforts are generally pursued in stages and in a manner that develops cultural awareness and contributes to a desired cultural shift. These change efforts are embedded in a common core of change approaches that facilitate human connection and trust and they have a positive impact on business performance.
About the Author
Dr. George Taylor III has been a part-time faculty member in the APU School of Business since May 2015. He is a business owner, management consultant and academic. He holds a DM in Organization Leadership and an MBA in Information Systems Management. Dr. Taylor is certified as a SPHR, SHRM-SCP and CPC. Previously, he was a naval officer specializing in human resources.