Clearing Up Misconceptions About Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging ReporterBy Reporter
May 16th, 2023 • 5 Minutes

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) initiatives have become important to employers, not only because they are important to employees and job candidates, but because they relate directly to organizational viability. A report in the Deloitte Review revealed that companies following an inclusive culture “are twice more likely to meet or exceed financial targets and six times more likely to be agile and innovative.” Such companies, the report said, are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. 

According to an article in Forbes magazine, “Companies relegating DEI&B to the back burner may be at risk of placing themselves at a disadvantage. They risk facing a backlash from customers and talent not only now, but also in the future.”

Since DEI&B issues speak to an emotional component (e.g., cultural sensitivities) on the part of individuals as well as to fundamental issues of parity, this isn’t something that employers and recruiters can afford to handle clumsily or ineffectively. Having a solid working knowledge of what DEI&B is and is not in order to effectively implement and promote DEI&B initiatives is absolutely essential. In this article, we’ll address some of these fundamentals, as well as clarifying common misconceptions that have been known to present themselves regarding this issue.

DEI&B: Importance and Impact

According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), DEI&B empowers organizations and employees by “creating an inclusive, equitable and sustainable culture and work environment.” Workplace diversity itself encompasses “the collective mixture of differences and similarities that include individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences and behaviors.”

The lack of diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging experienced at companies in years past gave rise to underrepresented individuals being outsiders within organizations. This of course was a function of social status, ethnicity, gender, etc. The insiders—members of the preeminent social group—disproportionally occupied leadership roles and were often unconcerned and/or unaware of the difference between their experiences and those of the underrepresented. As our society became more diverse, the difference between these two sets of experience carried the potential to stifle companies’ efficiency and effectiveness, as well as being an ethically-questionable managerial model.

Diversity in a workplace creates opportunities for greater innovation and productivity, while inclusion enables organizations to realize the business benefits thereof. Equity creates fair treatment and access, the opportunity for advancement for all individuals in a workplace, and elimination barriers to fair treatment for historically disadvantaged groups.

Common DEI&B Misconceptions

Having described what DEI&B is, its importance, and what efforts in this area encompass, we’ll delve into some of the common myths and misconceptions surrounding it.

DEI&B is Primarily an Ethical Issue

There is definitely an ethical component to pursuing DEI&B goals. Parity and equal access for all workers are connected to ethics, because a lack thereof speaks to an organization that operates less than ethically. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll assume that companies seeking to be good corporate citizens wish to operate ethically. That said, the truth is that we’ve moved beyond simple ethics and begun to look at the larger dynamic surrounding DEI&B.

As we just mentioned, it’s been proven that there are significant risks to morale, efficiency, innovation and productivity for companies that don’t address DEI&B, as well as substantial gains that are realized across the board for companies that prioritize DEI&B initiatives. Companies that are proactive in this area enjoy higher retention, better employee engagement, broader attraction of talent, and stronger financial performance, among others. So, this is far from being just a feel-good issue for businesses.

DEI&B is Primarily About Race and Gender

Again, acknowledging aspects of racism and sexism that still exist in our society, our concerns regarding parity have expanded beyond race and gender, which were the primary concerns toward the end of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Today, more interconnected social categories such as class, gender identity, age, ability, and sexual or religious orientations now provide a broader focus for organizations’ DEI&B initiatives. An article in Forbes advised that “Acknowledging the full spectrum of traits is a key factor in encouraging an inclusive environment… While race and gender continue to be areas of focus for many organizations, diversity today means so much more.”

DEI&B Lowers Organizational Standards

This misconception or belief holds that DEI&B initiatives promote the hiring of less qualified candidates for positions within an organization. Sadly, some of this may be a holdover of managers who retain certain prejudices regarding underrepresented groups. While there is practically no evidence to support this claim, it nevertheless persists in some corporations and amongst some managers. It also makes little sense on its face, since hiring less-than-qualified candidates is a self-defeating proposition that companies can easily avoid while vigorously promoting robust DEI&B initiatives.

DEI&B Only Benefits Underrepresented People/Groups

While underrepresented individuals certainly do benefit from having equal access to positions and advancement, the overwhelming body of research holds that diverse workplaces increase the retention rate among underrepresented groups. Additionally, majority populations benefit equally from diverse and inclusive workplaces, since studies have shown that today, most people lean more toward curiosity about unfamiliar individuals than toward xenophobia.

DEI&B Planning and Programs are Expensive

We’re not quite sure where this misconception came from, but there’s a belief in some companies that crafting DEI&B programs requires highly-paid consultants, trainers and experts, and thus costs large amounts of money. This is simply not true. Many companies have underutilized internal resources, and there are innumerable resources available online and elsewhere detailing how companies have been successful implementing DEI&B, and precisely how they’ve done it. A lot of the available resources show organizations how to tap these internal resources—workers—since these people are stakeholders in DEI&B outcomes.

It’s More Difficult to Manage Diverse Teams

Barring language barriers, which can be a practical concern even if all other factors remain equal, managing a diverse group of workers is no more difficult than managing a homogenous (non-diverse) team. People are people, and in the context of the workplace, individuals who make up your teams are going to have similar training and aptitudes, as well as common objectives and goals. The only practical variations will be those across individuals in their methods and approaches, and these are factors that exist even in non-diverse groups.

Managing any team always presents challenges, but skilled managers should be able to gauge their team’s capabilities and lead accordingly. And according to Harvard Business Review, the ability to manage diverse teams is integral to cultural competency, a must-have for organizations that want to remain viable in the future.

DEI&B is a One-off Proposition

This involves the fallacious belief that once an organizational DEI&B program is in place, it runs automatically, and the work is done. Well, this doesn’t hold true for too many other organizational programs (e.g., benefits, technology), so there’s no good reason to think that this area would be any different. DEI&B programs should be considered mission-critical strategies that are directly wedded to the success of the organization. These efforts should be incorporated into performance reviews, as well as pay and promotion programs. The work of diverse teams should be highlighted in order to affirm the company’s efforts as well as those of its teams, and organizational milestones should be acknowledged on a company-wide basis.

In closing, it is necessary to remember that DEI&B initiatives will need to be tailored to the specific needs of your organization. While your efforts will be (and should be) focused on engaging underrepresented individuals within your organization and the existing talent pool, those groups can vary depending on geography, your industry and other factors.

Employees in companies that prioritize DEI&B have higher levels of trust and loyalty when they see that the company they work for is mindful of this important issue and takes the requisite steps toward ongoing improvement. And the companies themselves benefit in numerous direct and tangential areas.

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