The Real Reason EDI Initiatives Often Miss the Mark – and How We Can Fix It

By: Gayathri Shukla, April 30, 2024

It’s no surprise that we see this troubling trend today:  waning interest among organizations to pursue Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives.

It’s not that they don’t believe in the importance of this work, but many are unsure of its effectiveness. Despite the significant resources poured into these programs, a disconnect persists between the goals set and the outcomes achieved.

In my consulting work, I often get asked – after the fact – to come in and analyze why these initiatives falter, and propose how we can turn the tide to foster a sustainable EDI culture. After conducting in-depth research and a literature review process across many organizations, I have come to the following conclusions:  

Understanding the Core Issues

Consider a scenario where TechForward* launches an EDI program with much fanfare. A year later, little has changed. The issue? A one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t fit their unique needs. 

We know intuitively that customization is crucial. However, I have come across many organizations where the people doing this work – let’s call them “EDI champions”  – are working off the sides of their desks with very limited resources. They are simply unable to tailor EDI strategies to each department or business unit – it’s not their job. In organizations with a dedicated EDI department,  individuals tasked with developing customized strategies often lack the formal authority to implement them. There needs to be a much more sustainable way of customizing and integrating EDI, which I have started to outline below.:

Leadership: Walking the Talk

It’s not enough for leaders to verbally support EDI. At GreenScape* a known vibrant culture and innovation leader in EDI, the CEO actively participates in discussions, sharing experiences and learning from others. This active involvement sends a powerful message: EDI is a priority. This is a principle I often emphasize in my storytelling and empathy training sessions. Crafting stories that reflect unique experiences helps employees tune into their ‘why’ behind EDI efforts.

Integrating EDI into Daily Operations

EDI must be integrated into all business operations—from recruitment to strategic decision-making. This ensures EDI considerations are forefront, driving real change. Every leader needs to be able to articulate not only their ‘why’ but how EDI supports their business outcomes in tangible ways.

Measurement and Accountability

This leads us to the next point – what gets measured gets done. Organizations with robust EDI metrics often see improved employee satisfaction and retention (Smith, 2020). Regular accountability checks are essential for continuous improvement. In practice, however, many leaders are unsure as to how to measure outcomes, especially if they are non-quantitative in nature. For example, it is easier to assess numeric representation targets, but a lot harder to assess the nuanced nature of employees’ sense of belonging. This is where lived experiences gathered before or after a particular initiative can be a enlightening tool to measure progress.  

The Role of Empathy and Storytelling

Let’s face it. Change is tough. EDI shifts workplace dynamics and challenges the norms that many people even connect to parts of their identity. 

Yet, I have seen in my work time and again that storytelling and empathy training can help dismantle fears, bridge gaps between diverse groups, enriching the learning experience and fostering an inclusive culture.

Transforming EDI from wishful thinking into reality requires safe spaces where every employee can articulate their why, and is given grace to learn through their mistakes while remaining committed to the larger mission. 

We’re long past the “business case argument” for EDI, but it is still helpful to remember the benefits. Diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform peers (McKinsey, 2019). With customized strategies, leadership involvement, integrated practices, and a focus on empathy, organizations can create thriving, inclusive workplaces. Let’s re-energize our commitment together. 

 

*names of orgs have been changed to maintain client confidentiality.