5 things Holding Organizations back from Transformative Change

At incluu, LLC, we create brave spaces for life. To some, this concept may sound dreamy, ambitious, and a little “millennial“, but our work in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space at the intersection of human, tech, and civil rights has continued to expose the pitfalls organizations face when they do not fully embrace and commit to their DEI initiatives. 

The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the global Black Lives Matter protests that followed forced organizations to explore the concept of breaking down barriers in their peoples, practices, and products. In doing so, many sought and are seeking more fair and inclusive practices. For help in their DEI journey, they are turning to thought partners now more than ever.

Volunteers, often many of whom are members of marginalized groups, progress DEI work. From within, these volunteers build grassroots movements and shoulder the lift and rise of DEI initiatives. We are now not only seeing accredited programs and boot camps popping up around DEI learning but also full-fledged positions and career paths being built around this work. 

Resources to grow inclusivity and belonging internally and externally are increasing daily, and yet many individuals and organizations still struggle to progress this work. Our team at incluu has over twenty collective years of experience working on various diversity, equity, and inclusion projects for accessibility, product, education, and across tech spaces. From that experience, we’ve learned that an organization’s failure to achieve and reach its full potential for real, sustainable transformative change stems from five factors.

1. Inability to see DEI work as mission-critical for the organization’s ecosystem

Take this example: An organization has rallied to the call for more comprehensive changes by green-lighting the creation of a DEI committee, or perhaps a new Employee Resource Group. Hooray; this is a good first step as everything appears to be headed in the right direction and morale is high. Success is on the horizon, and yet they face these roadblocks: 

  • DEI work competes with their core work responsibilities;
  • impact is being used cosmetically for positive public relations;
  • accomplishments are not receiving air time at the company all-hands meetings or within company-wide reports;
  • the DEI strategy is not being discussed by and with executive leadership.

These are all signs the organization does not see the work as essential to its entire ecosystem; its people, practices, and products. 

Work completed in one area of the ecosystem directly affects and influences the other parts as well. If, for example, an organization is looking to change its design-thinking practices to include an accessibility checklist, this also requires the organization to train its people to design more inclusively, which then trickles into what goes into the organization’s product. Every facet of the organization’s practices and procedures must face scrutiny and no area can remain untouched.

The non-holistic approach typically leads to unsuccessful one-off efforts in various areas such as hiring, compensation, and workplace inclusivity, to name a few. Lack of intentionality by leadership in structuring the foundation of how DEI blends into the entire organization is something that organizations can tackle and overcome. However, it relies on understanding that the work done toward making an organization more diverse and inclusive is a catalyst for change throughout the organization.

2. Lack of individual & strategy empowerment

Too often organizations default to hiring an internal DEI consultant before setting intentional, organization-backed DEI goals. We see high levels of energy and passion when their DEI work begins, but then things come to a halt or the progression is slower than the demand feeding it. This is a symptom of the directly responsible individual(s) feeling unempowered to act or achieve strategies. 

Implementing a carefully crafted three-year strategy can fall short because of a lack of:

  • executive sponsorship (through being engaged, supportive, and highlighting initiatives);
  • budget & resource allocations;
  • ability to roll out changes across organizational business units;
  • redundancy (if this person is out-of-the-office (OOO), who will pick up the torch?);
  • capacity (If the individual is already working 100% on their core work, how can they meaningfully contribute to DEI initiatives?).

Many DEI advocates begin with a solid strategy, but efforts fall flat because there isn’t enough supportive backing to implement the suggested changes. For hired DEI leaders, this is problematic, but for a volunteer, the lack of support can be morale-crushing. A volunteer’s struggle to maintain momentum when they are working at overcapacity (10-20% on top of their day job) for these critical organizational efforts can be difficult, emotional, and heavy.

Companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Justworks have recently taken bold and brave steps to ensure they support those doing the work to move initiatives forward. That support comes in acknowledgment through compensating them for their invaluable contributions to the success of the organization and its commitments. Across all industries, organizations are budgeting annually for this work whether it’s by denoting budgets to their ERGs or to an overall program.

When organizations recognize, showcase, and reward individuals and their efforts in making their peoples, products, and practices more inclusive and diverse, they are empowering their community members and also highlighting the overall importance of this work.

There are many ways to implement reward/compensation systems for DEI work, so this is an area for organizations to embrace creatively.

3. Pushback based on organization culture or policy

People working in Silicon Valley or in tech jobs are well-aware of the overemphasis on “culture” or “policies.” Companies such as Basecamp and Coinbase recently moved forward to ban social and political discussions at work, leading to the erosion of employee faith in the companies in question. We also see older policies backfire when they reach into areas like physical appearances, such as with policies discriminating against Black or textured hairstyles in schools and places of work.

Company culture and all company policies must be re-evaluated and changed based on the legitimate calls for action when they arise. If an organization refuses to do better by making more inclusive changes to its culture and policy, it rewards and lends credence to the toxic behaviors DEI-advocates are working to dismantle.

The world changes daily. Refusing to change with it by re-evaluating and implementing changes to the organization’s peoples, practices, and products holds organizations back from growth and innovation. When heeding the call for more diverse, fair, and inclusive practices and receiving recommendations from those engaged in the work, leadership cannot claim to be doing the work by choosing to focus only on the most comfortable items and ignoring the rest.

4. The assumption that transformative change can happen “good, fast, and cheap”

The rise in interest and commitments in the DEI space is promising, however, too many organizations assume that work can happen “good, fast, and cheap.” The graphic below should be a familiar one. It applies to any service in which someone is investing.

Three-Circle Venn diagram showing the small overlap between the quality of work, the cost, and the turnaround time.

When an organization is looking for “good, fast, and cheap,” they are searching for a fantasy. Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is:

  • driven by people (both emotionally and capacity-wise);
  • a long-term commitment (lasting the life-cycle of the organization); and
  • dependent on dedicated budgets and resources.

Of course, those looking for these types of services come to the discussion with assumptions, biases, and selective focus on how to make changes throughout their organization. In fact, at incluu’s inception, we fielded requests for speaking engagements and onetime workshops. While companies seem committed to making their spaces more inclusive, looking back at their commitments, and through our own market research, we see many are not progressing.

To be clear, starting small is good and necessary. However, decision-makers within the organization must understand that no matter where they are beginning in their DEI journey, there is no last station where folks can pat themselves on the back and say the work is done. 

5. Overemphasis on the quantifiable data over the experiential data

Numbers come into play and question often whether it’s in terms of budget or to measure impact. Data shows that more diverse and inclusive organizations capture more market share, and perform better financially. While it’s understandable that some organizations just learning to embrace DEI principles want to have the data to share with stakeholders or executive leadership, we find all too often it is the data they believe will solely convey that committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion work was and is a beneficial investment. This isn’t always the case, and when working with our partners, we stress the importance of qualitative or experiential data received, as it is integral and often more valuable to achieving their overall goals.

For example, incluu creates and conducts customized inclusion sentiment surveys, provides analyses, and crafts action plans geared towards an increase in positive inclusion sentiments with the data collected. While the change in metrics is beneficial for validation and tracking, we can see the real impact in the student and teacher dynamic which has now changed for the better because both parties share the same language for discussing gender expression. In addition, we may also observe increased colleague-to-colleague morale and productivity because the shared language allows for clearer conversations about accessibility issues in product offerings. Everyone can then work together to course-correct as needed and make better decisions.

As when innovating new products, it is fundamental to listen to feedback directly from customers and customer support staff, and then track the experiential outcomes thriving in organizations because of a centered and strategic focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Organizations must maintain a holistic view of their DEI initiatives to better understand where they are on their journey. They must continue to plan, strategize, and implement diverse, equitable, and inclusive principles well into the future and be willing to reflect, review, and revise their strategies as necessary.

People must ultimately resolve people-created challenges, after all.

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incluu is a Black, and woman-owned consulting agency focused on creating brave spaces for life. We partner with individuals, organizations, and thought leaders who are ready for transformative change in their practices, people, and products.

Contact us today to learn more about how to partner with incluu to propel and support your vision for sustainable and long-lasting change.

#DEI #Diversity #Equity #Inclusion #incluu #BraveSpaces #TransformativeChange

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