WHY DIVERSITY PROGRAMS DON’T WORK

By August 24, 2016Blog

Many organizations, across sectors, know when they have diversity issues. So why do so many organizations, even sectors, remain so homogeneous? A new study produced by researchers at MIT is helping to understand why our employers are having so much trouble diversifying themselves.

The main finding of the study seems to indicate that one reason that diversity programs fail is that certain employee groups (women, Asians, etc) prefer certain diversity initiatives – initiatives that may not engage other groups. And the diversity needs of a specific organization depends on the current make-up of its employees along race, gender, sexuality, background, et al.

For example, a diversity program that celebrates everyone’s differences tends to not work if you don’t have enough employees from different backgrounds.

“If you’re someone who’s worked tooth and nail to get there, and you’re the only black person in the room — [the celebrates everyone’s differences approach] feels like you’re giving everyone a reason for you to be there in the first place,” Evan Apfelbaum, one of the authors of the study, told Mic in a recent interview. 

The study (a review of the diversity practices at 151 law firms) also identified that organizations are using two main diversity initiatives.

  1. Celebrating everyone’s differences – emphasizing that diversity is what makes the organization great
  2. Celebrating equality – emphasizing that the hard work of employees makes the organization great

From the lack of success of many programs, across sectors, it seems that organizations need to be more strategic with their programs. Many organizations appear to be drawing up a diversity program, initiating it and then leaving it – like they are just checking a box. By empowering current staff to create a working environment that they want to be a part of, an organization will find it easier to attract more diverse talent.

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