Avoid These Brand-Damaging Mistakes in Diversity Initiatives

toward equity
04 Aug, 2022


Toward Equity

toward equity
July/August 2022

Avoid These Brand-Damaging Mistakes in Diversity Initiatives

Companies today routinely publicize their diversity programs, but how many actually go beyond self-aggrandizing announcements? Not nearly enough, members of Forbes Coaches Council report. Corporations like to be admired for their efforts, especially around Juneteenth and Pride Month. But too many “merely pay lip service to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” according to the Forbes panel, “without actually taking effective action to advance stated goals within their operations, workforce and culture.”

Businesses “regularly change their logos for Pride Month without taking steps to advocate for their LGBTQ+ employees,” Kyle Elliott of CaffeinatedKyle.com says. “This negatively reflects on their internal brand and sends the message to prospective employees and customers that the company is simply looking to profit off LGBTQ+ people’s trauma. Companies must move beyond logos and do the lifelong work of LGBTQ+ allyship.”

Others take similar — and similarly self-serving — steps. They issue “limited-time offers” on products rebranded for Black History Month and other “cultural holidays,” according to Gregg Ward of the Center for Respectful Leadership. “Examples include picnic supplies labeled ‘Happy Juneteenth!’ and foods rebranded for a cultural holiday. This just tells consumers that the company wants to make money off of cultural celebration. It says nothing about how committed it is to DEI.”

Less cynical, but also far from sufficient, is the CEO “signing a pledge stating that DEI is important, but then not changing the company’s hiring practices to allow for more diversity. The impact on the brand is significant. Internally, employees are losing trust in leadership and leaving,” says Sandy Schwan of Evolving Strategies LLC. “Externally, shareholders and customers are more explicitly holding leadership accountable when their talk doesn’t align with their walk.”

‘Mere Figureheads’

Others promote someone from within the company to head diversity efforts, but all too often they are mere figureheads. “They are often promoted from a general HR role, become a director or vice president of DEI with little experience in the subject matter, and are then given barely any needed resources to be successful,” according to DX Learning Solutions’ Alex Draper. “They end up talking a good game, but the leaders do the opposite of what they speak about, which leads to cultural debt among the employees.”

Hiring from within can be a mistake, but outsourcing efforts can also have their drawbacks. Companies that bring in consultants to handle DEI training “without active internal ownership implementing positive organizational change signal to their people that DEI training is a ‘box to check’ rather than an honest effort to drive impactful cultural change at all levels of the organization,” says Tom Frank of Ascend Coaching and Training. “DEI training without a larger mindset change is never effective.”

Not Just Entry-Level

Another blunder is inclusive hiring practices that apply only to entry-level positions. “Boosting inclusion involves many steps, and one of the most meaningful ones is ensuring that people can see themselves in the higher levels of the organization so that they believe they have a pathway to advance in their careers,” EisnerAmper’s Natalie McVeigh points out.

Entry-level employees need to see people who look like them in, or at least near, the C-suite, too. They also want to know the organization takes its efforts seriously enough that it affects the leadership as well as underlings. Companies need mentorship programs that help them “achieve meaningful, top-down — not just bottom-up — change,” according to McVeigh.

Additional Resources

Related Article: Diversity Is Good for Business — And the Public Expects It 

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