The events of the last year have put the actions of companies under a microscope. Their efforts to have equal representation for minorities or marginalized groups in leadership positions, or even on the books at all, should be at the top of an organization’s priority list. While some companies are making a concerted effort to look at the way they hire, promote and manage, many companies are either unable or unwilling to do the real work it takes to make change.

A new report from and Perceptyx, shows 80 percent of companies are “just going through the motions and not holding themselves accountable” when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The report showed:

  • 76 percent of companies have no diversity or inclusion goals.
  • 75 percent of companies do not have DE&I included in the company’s leadership development or overall learning and development curricula.
  • 40 percent of companies view diversity work as a way to mitigate legal, compliance or reputational risks with HR in an enforcer role.
  • 32 percent of companies require some form of DE&I training for employees, 34 percent offer training to managers.

Why do diversity and inclusion programs often fail?

Lack of proper implementation & support

Diversity and inclusion aren’t an HR problem – it’s a business problem. A diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy should be treated like any other business strategy or initiative. A diversity program cannot survive in isolation. It’s not meant just for a press release or careers page. It won’t work if it’s not supported by senior staff and effectively applied at all levels of an organization.

Focus is on the wrong things

What do most organizations miss when trying to design and implement a diversity and inclusion program? Active listening and taking action based on what organizations learn are most important when pushing diversity, inclusion and belonging, according to the same report. Employees want you to “listen, hear, and act” on what they say, feel and experience. While that’s easier said than done, we have some steps you can take to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Steps to make diversity, equity and inclusion a reality

Collect and analyze data

The first step in creating an effective program is to collect data. This is something you do for other business strategies, why not do it for diversity and inclusion? By collecting and analyzing data on diversity over time and sharing findings with key stakeholders, companies can increase accountability and transparency around diversity issues.

What demographic data should you collect?

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity/national origin
  • Family status
  • Gender
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Generation
  • Language
  • Life experiences
  • Organization function and level
  • Personality type
  • Physical characteristics
  • Race
  • Religion, belief and spirituality
  • Sexual orientation
  • Thinking/learning styles
  • Veteran status

Collecting data can be its own problem. Some companies may have data available already through EEO reporting, but most will probably need to survey workers via voluntary self-identification. However, sensitive information can be hard to get, especially if your employees don’t trust you or don’t think the submissions will be anonymous.

You should always let workers know how you will be using their information and that it will be protected and anonymous. For that reason, it’s worthwhile to use a third party to collect this information.  Surveys can be used to collect more than just demographic data; you can get insight into how your employees feel about you, their work, and company leadership. Knowing how your employees feel and understanding their perceptions of you can help you identify challenges you might face as you try to implement a program.

Use data to set concrete goals

Once you get your data, analyze it and break it down to pinpoint specific problem areas. Does a specific department have issues hiring only men? Do minority managers make less than their white counterparts? Are promotions available to workers of any sexual orientation or gender identity? Is a certain manager or department in need of training? These are all questions you should be able to answer with the information you received. You can use your data to set realistic timelines and create measurable goals for increasing representation in the areas you identified. As you implement your program, use your data and goals to appraise change over time and compare yourself to other organizations.

Analyze processes and procedures


Where are you sourcing new employees from? Are they coming from the same schools or companies? Is your employee referral program supplying employees that are too alike? If you get a good candidate from a reliable source, it’s likely you come back to them over and over again when you need to hire again. However, these myopic hiring practices could be a way you are missing qualified, more diverse candidates.


Approximately half of all discrimination and harassment complaints lead to some type of retaliation. Those that do complain are more likely to face career challenges or experience worse mental and physical health compared to workers who do not report their harassment.  Employees put so much on the line when reporting discriminatory behavior. Protecting themselves should not make them feel vulnerable or undermine their health and safety at work.

That’s why Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommends using alternative means of reporting harassment and discrimination. If your internal complaint system does not work, use a source outside of your organization. HBR suggests a neutral third party like an employee assistance program (EAP) or ombuds office. These resources are more concerned with fairness and the employee’s welfare rather than with managing a company’s reputation or legal liability.

Examine company culture

The way you handle these procedures is indicative of your company culture. When you’re looking to hire new employees, culture can be a make-or-break it decision. But oftentimes, organizations become too narrow minded about what an “X company employee” looks like when they (usually unintentionally) hire the same type of person repeatedly. Culture is not about excluding people or limiting who you hire. It’s about aligning people with business values; your employees have a similar purpose and common goals. A healthy, successful company culture encourages good performance and inspires commitment to an organization and its mission.

The same is true when managing discrimination or harassment claims. When leadership can view that as an opportunity to create positive change as opposed to a threat, you know that you have your employees’ and the company’s best interests at heart. This goes back to the main point, employers need to listen, hear, and then act on the concerns their employees bring to them.

Involve managers and employees in program design and implementation

So often DE&I initiatives are created in a vacuum, announced, and then they fail. One way to remedy that is to involve managers in the design process from the very beginning. Instead of using an outside source to create a program and then have managers apply it later, managers can help make a program they will be implementing and personalize it to how they already work. Rather than giving a manager another task or make their work more complicated, they can feel a sense of ownership and accountability for something they helped create. Not only does this increase buy-in at the beginning, but it can also ease implementation and impact the success and longevity of the program.

Participation shouldn’t be limited only to executive leadership and managers; create a committee where employees from all levels and departments can review DE&I policies, promote trainings, etc. People are more likely to listen to and be inspired by their peers than an executive they never interact with.

When communicating the initiatives, they should be designed for each stakeholder. The messages, goals and tasks will be different for different departments, roles and levels in the organization. If you have senior executives, managers, staff, the public and potential candidates as audiences, their messages should be catered to them. You can use your segmented audiences to better gauge progress, track goals and re-evaluate effectiveness by group.

Measure, reevaluate and adjust tactics and goals

The hardest part of having a successful DE&I program is the maintenance. Since this is a dynamic program, things will change as you implement initiatives, hold trainings, and conduct surveys. Employee perceptions will change, hopefully representation will increase, and then you will have to adjust your tactics and goals. To stay on top of it, conduct surveys at important benchmarks to measure progress. Share findings, good or bad, with the entire organization. People want transparency, but they can also be creative and help you solve future problems.

Every organization is unique, and so every organization’s diversity and inclusion programs will be different. We highlighted some critical steps in building a successful program, but it’s up to you to determine what your employees and organization need to make belonging for all a reality.