Decoding Diversity Part 4: Avoiding the Pitfalls

Apparently, diversity and inclusion strategies threaten white men and actually make the work environment hostile for women of colour (says Harvard Business Review). The logic behind this study is pretty standard: any policies that single out a given group for potential benefit will threaten any group that is not a beneficiary of the strategy, thus causing resentment from the non-benefitting group towards the group that the policy was initially intended to benefit.

In diversity & inclusion, it is (unfortunately) common that organizations inadvertently create an “us vs. them” culture with “straight, white able-bodied men” vs. “diverse employees”. When this happens, it is normal that a straight, white able-bodied male will feel threatened; after all, most diversity policies talk about increasing representation of diverse employees, which would require a decrease in white men overall in order for it to be successful. Even if this has nothing to do with current employees (I doubt any company would fire a competent white man simply to “increase diversity”), many people take the policies personally, wondering why they are suddenly left out.

The good news is that this outcome can be avoided.

Diversity strategies and policies can be crafted in a way that is good for everyone; this happens when strategies are inclusive. Here is a framework to think about your diversity and inclusion strategies:

Make your overall plan first

Think of this like a blueprint for a house. When building an entire house, you need plans for the entire house. The same goes for when starting a diversity and inclusion strategy. If a company has a mandate to increase diversity, then the call to action is to hire more diverse candidates; through quotas, niche job boards, or nonprofit partnerships (to name a few). However, often a company will work to increase its diversity with no plan for what to do once the workforce is diversified. They don’t know if they should support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), they don’t know what to do about other religions and religious holidays that differ from Christianity, or they don’t plan for the differing medical/accommodation needs of some employees.

Without a plan that shows what the finished picture is intended to look like, efforts will seem haphazard and lead employees to draw their own (often negative) conclusions.

Implement complementary policies together

A typical diversity and inclusion strategy will likely include the following elements (plus others):

  • Recruiting/sourcing strategy
  • Sensitivity/diversity training
  • Employee Resource development

When implementing some of your strategy – new recruiting channels, for instance – you have to ensure that you have a plan in place for when those employees arrive. Thus, it makes sense to also plan out your diversity training so that current and new employees can understand your D&I strategy, why you are doing it, and how everyone can take part. 

Share the business case and the social case for diversity

Some employees are numbers driven; they will get behind any initiative that has a good chance of making them more money. Others prefer social context, wanting to feel like they are doing right by the world and their conscience. You no doubt have both of these employee types working in your organization, so speak to both types of conversation when discussing diversity and inclusion. 

Ask for employee feedback – and listen to it

Like any company-wide initiative, employees are bound to have feelings (positive or negative) about your diversity strategy. So ask them about it. In your questions, be sure you are covering:

  • Feelings about diversity and inclusion broadly as a business tactic
  • Do employees face discrimination or feel they are being subject to unconscious biases at work?
  • Are there concerns about how the D&I strategy is being implemented that makes employees feel like it will cause them to be discriminated against or subject to unconscious bias at work?
  • Do employees feel that any changes have helped (or hindered) them when it comes to doing their best work?

In the feedback forms, it is important to focus on the end result: is the workforce becoming more inclusive and are employees able to be more productive, happy, engaged, etc? Often, feedback forms speak only of the strategy itself, but not the impact; this is where companies go wrong. If employees feel they are more able to do their best work, then great. If not, try to address implementation issues that are causing unintended consequences.

Highlight individual voices, not “diversifying the workforce”

When looking at a diversity and inclusion strategy, the goal is to leverage the unique strengths of your employees in order to further their professional development and add value to the business. So say that! Sometimes, diversity strategies get caught up in the specific tactics a company will use to increase diversity that they forget the reason why they created a strategy in the first place; to make everyone feel more valued.

As you draft your strategies, feedback channels, and new initiatives, ask yourself: Is this initiative going to enable my employees to find their unique value and their unique voice?

  • If so, then go ahead.
  • If it will help some groups but not others, see if there is a balance you can put in to empower other groups or see if there is already an initiative in place for other groups (this is the most common type of initiative where diversity and inclusion is concerned).
  • If it helps one group but hinders another, make sure there are balances – or choose an alternative initiative.

If you have any experiences implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives, write your story in the comments.

Post originally appeared on


Stefan is a diversity and inclusion consultant and Founder of Ziversity, an online diversity recruiting and sourcing platform. He has a number of years of experience in the HR/diversity recruiting space, starting with his research at Yale University and continuing through numerous non-profit positions. He blogs about diversity, inclusion, tech, startups, and cultural commentary. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @stefanpalios. Business inquiries can be sent to

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