Why your equity initiatives are failing…

Why your equity initiatives are failing…

Sometimes a new DEI initiative feels a lot like a 1500-piece puzzle scattered across your table with no reference image and missing pieces that you aren’t even aware are missing. No matter how successful you’ve been at completing puzzles in the past, you’re unable to accomplish this new goal.

Let me help you fill in the missing pieces and give you a clear vision for what you’re working toward.

Homer Simpson grunting

Problem #1: You don’t realize that something is missing

Think of how much time you waste and the frustration you experience when you’re missing a puzzle piece. It’s no different with your equity initiatives.

If you and your team are new to diversity, equity, and inclusion, you need to pause and educate yourself about the basics. What are you really trying to accomplish? For a puzzle, it’s the image on the front of the box; what is the vision you have for what success in your DEI initiative will look like? For a puzzle, you start with the edge pieces and then sort the pieces by color; what is a logical strategy to utilize for your initiative? 

It may be that you’ve decided to work on just one piece of the puzzle and have left out an important area that will help you reach your goal. Merely focusing efforts on diversity recruitment or setting goals won’t get you to true equity. Even if you’re just cobbling together a few pieces of s at a time, you’re going to reach your end goal faster than someone who never addresses one section.

Or maybe you’ve chosen the wrong strategy. Perhaps you’ve decided that walking the tightrope between nudging people in the right direction and offending them with real talk is just too dangerous, and you aren’t making headway by tiptoeing around the issues. You’re actually just leaving people confused or frustrated. Take comfort in knowing that people actually expect and prefer to talk about hot-button issues at work. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer from 2022, the workplace is where people actually want to get information about contentious issues and where we have the most hope for impacting societal issues.

Simpson family with pile of puzzle pieces


Problem #2: You’ve underestimated what it’ll take to put it all together

Marge Simpson saying to Homer, "​In the room where we do puzzles"​

Have you ever dumped out all of the pieces to an enormous puzzle on your dining room table only to realize days later that you won’t be able to finish it before you need to use that same table for a party? You underestimated your abilities, and it happens on a much grander scale when it comes to DEI initiatives.

Each piece of the puzzle in an inequitable system was designed into it from the beginning and perpetuated by every other system that was built on top of them. So you aren’t just putting together the surface level pieces and making them fit, there are entire layers operating underneath the surface that you may only discover once you start your work. For example, if you work for an organization that is trying to increase the number of Black doctors, lawyers, and engineers, you will run into issues if you don’t acknowledge that the education, health, legal, and corporate systems that have existed for centuries held the ancestors of those Black individuals back. Their ancestors were considered someone else’s property just a few centuries ago and weren’t permitted to attend college just a few decades ago. While those specific laws have changed, the same prejudice that created them still exists and manifests itself in other ways that must be taken into account.

Given this layered puzzle, perhaps you’ve taken on a job that is too big for your current time allotment and the available man-power. If you’re part of a tech company, education nonprofit, or communication agency that has recognized the need for equity but doesn’t have a dedicated Chief Diversity Officer or anyone whose sole job is to be the expert on all things DEI and the skills to make changes happen. No one expects you to take that on! That’s why DEI consultants exist. Instead of working yourself ragged, hire an outside consultant to come in and help you. Just don’t expect them to come in, wave a wand, and solve all your problems. They will be there to help direct you to the issues with the highest need and build your capacity to solve them. 

Even then, this is not a six-month project. It is a commitment through the lifetime of your organization and, hopefully, the lifetime of all stakeholders.


Problem #3: You don’t step back and inspect what you have in front of you

Homer Simpson holding a puzzle saying, "Can't help ya. All I got is gray."​

When you’re working on a puzzle, you have to go back and forth between looking at the big picture and focusing on the tiny details to get everything to fit together just right. When you’re working on a DEI initiative, you have to look at both qualitative and quantitative data. If your data sucks, you won’t take the right actions. 

First off, you have to set up routines, a regular cadence, with key stakeholders to review short cycle data and make decisions about your practices based on the insights. The diversity of the stakeholders is crucial–you need people in power, those who are most impacted, and a rainbow of experiences inbetween. 

The data you should be reviewing in these meetings is both qualitative and quantitative, and there should be a formal process for collecting the data as well as tracking the impact of your actions through the data. You’ll know you’ve been successful when you can look at the same data points before and after the beginning of your DEI initiative and see a difference. Sure, it may be a small difference, but small, incremental change is the goal. Changes in human behavior and opinions does not happen overnight.

Now, if you do happen to see overnight success, you may need to consider if there are some trust issues from those providing information in surveys and interviews. Perhaps they haven’t shared their whole truth out of fear of retaliation if they speak their minds. Avoid this by maintaining anonymity and protecting privacy at every step along the way.

When you start to hear more about what’s working than about what isn’t working in your qualitative data, you’ll know you’re on the right track. Notice I didn’t say when you’re only hearing about what’s working–that’s just not a realistic goal.

Your C-Suite may want to focus solely on the numbers, but you need the qualitative data to paint a picture of how the quantitative data is playing out in the real lives of people. Think of the quantitative data as the canvas and the qualitative data as the paint. Qualitative data is what gives those numbers life. It provides the color through the stories and experiences of the people behind those charts. It can also provide much needed missing information that uncovers a critical piece missing from the story.

When you meet to review all of your data, make sure that your conversations are solution-oriented. Because you’re coming together to solve this puzzle of correcting inequity, right?

Simpson family staring at a complete puzzle

Achieving the final vision of an equitable workplace isn’t going to be easy, but you can attack it by putting the pieces together with the right strategy, the right mentality, and the right resources. 


Learn more about how to gather data and present it to stakeholders to make your DEI initiatives come together through one-on-one coaching sessions in The Equity Impact Hub

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