Workforce Visibility

Why Diversity and Inclusion Programs Really Fail.

In the continued craze over corporate culture, employers have broadcast diversity and inclusion measures in an effort to win the war for talent and innovation. Diversity initiatives are claimed to be moving beyond compliance and towards more proactive approach to inclusion and diversity.

 Some of the reasons most commonly cited for this strategic shift in D&I initiatives include promoting innovation and lifting financial performance, among myriad other benefits.

 However, after years of focus on improving diversity, Stanford and Harvard sociologists found that workplaces are actually more segregated now than they were a generation ago.

 The study analyzed more than 40 years of data of every large, private employer in the U.S. based on racial makeup and found that individual employers are still homogenous, at large, and more divided than they were in the 1970s.


A 2017 study reported in The New York Times found that black college graduates earned approximately 21 percent less per hour on average than white college graduates, compared to a gap of 13 percent in 1979.

 The racial wealth gap continues to widen, despite a rise in diversity trainings, inclusion efforts, and proposed tech-based hiring solutions.

 According to Deloitte, 69 percent of corporate executives reported they support diversity and inclusion as important issues in their organizations.

Exploring the Diversity Divide in Recruiting and Hiring.

Executives almost unilaterally believe they are champions for diversity and inclusion. 

 Similarly, recruiters think that by sourcing and slating diverse candidates, they’re doing their jobs; HR Business Partners think that their role in diversity is ensuring compliance and mitigating risk; hiring managers think that they’re looking for the best candidate, but their unconscious biases make blind hiring impossible.

 So, while we think we’re all doing our part for D&I, the needle remains largely unmoved.

 We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, and as the old adage goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire - with D&I very much top of mind, workers not only know that it remains an issue, but also believe that a solution must be forthcoming.

 We have a pretty significant gap between input and output when it comes to diversity. So what's contributing to this growing divide?

4 Reasons Your Diversity and Inclusion Efforts May Be Missing The Mark.


Turns out there are a few issues that may influence how actionable your organization’s diversity and inclusion initiatives really are.

 Remember: Good faith efforts aren’t a strategy, and good intentions without best practices are pretty pointless.


1: Intersectionality Hits A Dead End.

Intersectionality is a social theory and a framework for understanding how systems of power impact people in relation to factors that influence social stratification like class, race, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation.

 For example, the fact that earnings of white women are approximately 79 percent of the earnings of white men, while women of color average approximately 59 percent.

 It is not just women who find themselves on the wrong end of an endemic and entrenched pay gap. At the intersection of race and gender, a more nuanced story about privilege and discrimination starts to emerge.

 White men, for example, are consistently paid more than any other demographic group, with women of color making the least of all intersectional race and gender pay gap data. This should probably come as no surprise to anyone reading this post.




 Remember that study that showed that private-sector workplaces are more segregated than they were in the 1970s?

 This fact is one that’s hard for many to fathom, considering the overall number of people of color in the workforce is significantly higher than it was during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

 However, employment rate is a poor indicator of social progress, considering the inequality that still exists in the types of jobs, and the level of those jobs; between wages paid and access to employer provided benefits, and the opportunity for professional mobility and advancement.

 The percentage of people of color working in low skill, low wage jobs, such as janitorial, kitchen and service roles is disproportionately high compared to other industries and professions. These jobs also employ the majority of the minorities in America’s active workforce, according to BLS data.

 It doesn’t really matter if the workforce is more diverse by race, if inclusion is still preempted by distinctions in relative rank and class, a gender imbalance between different roles and job levels, and similar factors, then the fundamental problems persist.

 2. Unconscious Biases

Recruiting-BiasStudies show people are more likely to hire people who look like them. This is what psychologists refer to as “affinity bias.” For example, statistically, white men occupy the majority of management positions, and therefore, have the most influence over new hires. Referrals, meanwhile, remain the most common external source of hire.

“Taking a chance” on a candidate, or going with our guts because we connect with them on a personal level, or see a little of ourselves in them, or went to the same colleges or grew up in the same cities or, in the case of referrals, have a shared connection — these are all examples of unconscious biases at play.

 When we “go with our gut,” or when we hire for “culture fit,” these subconscious biases come into play. They make us feel safer, and can help us feel either empathy or understanding.

 One study of more than 1,000 top executives at large and mid-sized public, U.S. companies found that white male managers specifically struggled when tasked with working for or with diverse executives. White study participants reported a “lower sense of identity with their company,” and indicated they were less likely to provide help to fellow colleagues, when those peers or leaders were visible minorities.

There’s safety in familiarity, but it also breeds contempt, particularly when it forces us out of our comfort zones and into interactions with anyone who isn’t like ourselves. This is how marginalization happens.

Unconscious bias can have implications far beyond D&I initiatives, impacting both the business and bottom line. Starbucks made headlines when the organization produced a training video on implicit bias and resulting racial anxiety. Stores across the country closed to customers to roll out the full day, mandatory training, rapid response to a public outcry over a viral video of employees showing exactly why such training was required as a recourse.

 Today, companies and executives accused of discrimination continue to make front page news. One recent Pew Research study found that women employed in workplaces with a male majority reported “their gender made it harder for them to get ahead at work, that women are treated unfairly in personnel matters, and they report experiencing gender discrimination at significantly higher rates.”

 We can deny those numbers as subjective or a matter of perception, but to deny systemic inequality omits the unfortunate fact that pretty much everyone knows someone who specifically discriminates, intentionally or otherwise, against others based on their race or gender.

 Even the most outspoken bigots and the least tolerant, most biased among us have some sort of job. These roles, like any job, requires interacting with clients and customers; interfacing with direct reports and supervisors, and, often, hiring candidates, overseeing performance reviews and controlling access to resources like professional development opportunities.

 When it comes to biases, there’s no such thing as work-life balance; they’re always there, at home and in the office, and compartmentalizing biases between the personal and the professional is impossible. Particularly if you don’t know they exist.

3. The Culture Club

company-culturecompany-culturecompany-cultureGlobal Human Capital Trends report revealed that 82 percent of global CEOs and HR leaders believe “culture is a potential competitive advantage.”

Yet only 19 percent believed they have “the right culture.” Biases can affect the culture of an individual company or even, in many cases, an entire industry.

Iris Bohnet, Harvard Kennedy School director and author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design, told Harvard Business Review,“Managers have to learn to de-bias their practices and procedures.”  Otherwise, Bohnet suggests, homogeneity tends to reinforce itself.

Aside from hiring people who remind recruiters or hiring managers of themselves, culture can reinforce itself and become entrenched based on the steady codification and accumulation of subconscious biases.

 For instance, if there’s a certain job, department or business function where employees are disproportionately hired relative to their race, gender, class, and other factors, it’s easy to associate these biases with certain roles - take women in HR, or men in finance, or the whiteness of public company leaders and directors - and codify those as “culture.”

This, of course, makes “hiring for culture fit” a convenient excuse to not only operationalize bias, but also, as a pretext to discriminate against specific protected groups, too.  

4. Job Descriptions and Discrimination

Many languages have words that are masculine or feminine, but we don’t need la palabra itself to have a gender for language to be gendered, racial, or pertaining to a particular class. Small wording choices can impact the way candidates feel when they interact with job descriptions.

Research shows that masculine words  like “competitive” and “determined” resulted in women disproportionately reporting that they did not see themselves fitting in a given work environment. On the other hand, words like “collaborative” and “cooperative” drew more female candidates than men.


 A Dove ad accused of being racist in 2017 exemplified what can happen when organizations have communications go through multiple layers of review by only one demographic group. Basic offenses are missed and passed on to the next person with a similar experience to sign off on.

 If your job descriptions aren’t reviewed by multiple people from a spectrum of experiences, how can you know what’s relating or alienating to different groups?

Bye, Bye, Bias: Making Diversity and Inclusion Work at Work.

bye-byeHiring biases are contributing to race and gender gaps in employment and wages.

While there is consensus on the need for improving diversity, there’s less understanding of how to achieve real diversity beyond numbers and checkboxes.

Organizational leaders looking to improve diversity and inclusion can support these efforts by investing in training, intentionally diversifying without tokenizing, and by giving real consideration to the ways bias and culture cliquishness affect their organization’s performance and the work experiences of employees.

I know it won't be easy. But nothing worth doing is ever is, and there's perhaps nothing more worthwhile for recruiters and employers to get right today in order to compete — and win — top talent tomorrow, too.

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    Written by Elizabeth Maldonado
    Elizabeth Maldonado is a marketing strategist with almost a decade of working for several leading marketing agencies, focusing almost exclusively on HR technology and TA clients. Elizabeth moved on from AGS in 2019.