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The Business Case for DEI: Why Organizations Fall Short

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the forefront of many organizations’ priorities today. In their efforts to show the value of individual differences, organizations are targeting strategic priorities toward increasing the diversity of their workforce, developing inclusive cultures, and combatting discriminatory practices. These efforts, like many put forth by organizations, are often designed with a primary goal – impacting the organization’s bottom line.

Although many believe that engaging in DEI work within an organization is the right thing to do, which it is, the reality of the matter is that DEI is ultimately about the business case for most organizations. It’s no secret that organizations lose financially when their workforce lacks diversity, regardless of the industry. Studies have shown that diverse companies earn 2.3 times higher cash flow than companies with more monolithic workforces. Research has also shown that diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets than organizations that target little to no efforts into actively recruiting and retaining talent from under-represented groups. In fact, a recent article published by the New York Times contends that Hollywood loses $10 billion a year as a result of the lack of diversity within the entertainment industry.

If research establishes the business case for DEI, why is it so hard to achieve DEI goals?

It’s quite simple. Organizations typically fall into one or more of these three categories: 1) they really don’t care about making DEI a serious focus for their business; 2) they lack the internal knowledge and/or resources to begin; or 3) their internal culture does not embrace DEI in any form. The latter is arguably the most problematic and often the reason why the business case for DEI initiatives falls short in most organizations. To combat this, organizations should:

  • Seek outside expertise to assist with organizational culture fixes. Contrary to common belief, everyone doesn’t have the skills to do this work successfully. There are professionals who specialize in DEI work. Seek their assistance when appropriate.

  • Emphasize the importance of inclusion in action, not just words. Employees are sharp in recognizing when their leadership is taking DEI efforts seriously and when they are simply applying lip service. Buy-in becomes increasingly difficult when organizations are virtue signaling for the sake of pleasing members of their team, but don’t really mean it. Clients, community members, and the public are just as savvy in recognizing when an organization’s actions are merely performative and not genuine.

  • Enhance the understanding of the benefits of DEI work. Getting some leaders to understand that DEI benefits everyone is a difficult task. Attempt to create an internal environment that is conducive to fostering this knowledge and understanding. Outsource to professionals in the field to help support your efforts when appropriate, so that training content is catchy, sticky, and relatable, policies are on message and impactful, and bias incidents are addressed promptly, professionally, with tact, and empathy.

  • Establish realistic expectations. DEI work is a marathon race, not a sprint. Setting unrealistic expectations at the forefront sets the organization up for immediate failure. Sometimes starting small is best.

  • Obtain buy-in from senior leadership. DEI work must start from the top. Senior leaders must have a full understanding of DEI in a broad context as well as within their organizational context. If senior leadership isn’t willing to put in the work to obtain this knowledge, all other DEI initiatives will fail.

A diverse workforce is a more profitable workforce. Steps to get there may be many and steep but recognizing the business case for diversity is the first step. Valuing the business case for diversity is fundamental to achieving organizational success. Need help? Contact TNG.

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