Are your organization’s DEI efforts superficial or structural?


Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are not a “thing” like a program, an office or a title. They cannot be based on a single person, initiative or place. For too many organizations, DEI ends up being mere scaffolding that does little to bring about real, substantial change. And the scaffolds are additive, instead of becoming integral parts of the existing organizational structure.

We’ve seen this scaffolding evolve in a number of ways over the past two years, including the wave of organizations hiring Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs), frequently women of color, without giving them the means to eradicate the cause of systemic inequalities. The CDOs become the interlocutors in charge of manage and mitigate IED issues raised by internal and external stakeholders. They serve as a buffer for the leadership of the organization and, unfortunately, the accountability tends to end there.

So what can organizations do to determine if their DEI initiatives are mere scaffolding or performative solidarity – or if they are positioned to put racial and gender equity at the center of core corporate values ​​and drive change? . Based on our personal and professional experiences, our research and work with organizations, we have developed the following framework intended to help leaders evolve DEI into something deeply rooted in an organization’s mission, culture, and values. We describe them here as a series of questions that management teams should ask themselves, including:

Do we provide equitable access to career opportunities?

While it is essential to recognize that representation at all levels of the organization is essential, it is even more important to pay attention to what happens to Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other people of color when they enter the organization. Do they have access to equitable professional development, mentoring, sponsorship, compensation, performance reviews, networking, and opportunities for advancement and promotion?

We suggest moving beyond a “dashboard” approach to diversity that measures progress in descriptive terms. These dashboards are often flawed because they review progress incrementally against peers. In particular, the dashboards emphasize quantification as opposed to the qualitative experiences of individuals who may speak of high attrition rates, low promotion and advancement rates. We recommend that organizations use both the numerical value of representation and combine it with strategic means to measure the actual experiences of individuals within the organization.

Are we fostering a culture of alliance?

Leaders too often remain silent in the face of overt and subtle forms of racial aggression, making them complicit in maintaining systemically racist structures. For organizations to foster a culture of alliance that ultimately increases accountability at the individual and organizational levels, they must strive to empower individuals to take risks to create the environment that will support change. . This requires recognizing, supporting and rewarding behaviors and practices that promote fairness across the organization.

Leaders need to speak up and be transparent about what covenant means in their workplace, how each individual can practice it, and how each individual can contribute to building an inclusive and equitable environment . This requires evaluating internal practices and policies, developing sustainable equity programs that target systemic issues such as compensation, and creating a reward structure that recognizes the impact of a genuine alliance on workplace culture. workplace.

Have we made a public commitment to DCI with external partners? And are we ready to push back?

When an organization’s leaders hold themselves publicly accountable for the realities of systemic racism and other inequalities, we begin to see actions and deliverables that target structural change. Over the past two years, leaders of organizations, including Nasdaq, Goldman Sachsand The Coca-Cola Companyhave made public announcements not only about their overall commitment to diversity and equity, but also about how they will hold themselves and their business partners accountable.

The Nasdaq released a proposal which requires Nasdaq-listed companies to disclose their board diversity with respect to “gender, race, and self-identification as LGBTQ+.” Depending on the size of the board, companies will need to have at least one person from an underrepresented group for boards of less than five people, and a minimum of two for large boards within a specified time frame. If companies fail to meet Nasdaq’s diversity goals, they will be required to explain why they are unable to meet those goals.

Likewise, in 2020, one of the Goldman Sachs Diversity Initiatives targeted boardrooms, where they planned to underwrite only IPOs of companies with at least one diverse board member. In 2021, they increased this number to at least two members, at least one of whom must be a woman.

The Coca-Cola Company, meanwhile, has been on its own, fairly public, journey on diversity initiatives. In September 2020, they hired Bradley Gayton as general counsel. He described new diversity initiatives requiring all law firms the company contracts with to establish clear diversity and accountability measures through a open letter in January 2021. This has set an important precedent as it ultimately puts pressure on law firms to hire and develop a more diverse workforce. For example, 30% of billable hours must go directly to various attorneys, half of whom must be black attorneys. As a result, law firms are being forced to rethink hiring, retention and promotion strategies, making a diverse workforce a requirement rather than an aspiration. And Gayton’s strategic targeting of black attorneys paved the way for them to receive needed professional development, substantive assignments and networking opportunities that would increase their chances of promotion and advancement.

While Coca-Cola was initially praised for this bold diversity goal, it quickly face to face dissidents who argued that these new diversity goals were discriminatory. This led the initiative to come to a abrupt pause following Gayton’s unexpected resignation in April 2021. There has been strong refusal of the shareholders of the company who believed the initiative violated the board’s fiduciary responsibilities as they feared possible lawsuits violating Titles VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Given external pressures and internal reactions, The Coca-Cola Company recently confirmed that this diversity initiative never went into effect and will not go forward.

Public commitments are essential mechanisms for establishing clearly defined accountability measures for all stakeholder groups. While substantial and structural changes are often greeted with hindsight, these statements must be followed with conviction towards long-term results that invite everyone to be part of this change, potentially forcing organizations to rethink who they do (or don’t) do business with.

Do we know how we will measure our progress (or lack thereof?)

While we know that substantial change often doesn’t happen overnight, we can’t settle for slow, incremental progress. Organizations need a plan to measure their DEI efforts. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, scholar of race and law, argued in 1988 about anti-discrimination law, “There is no longer any author, any clearly identifiable discriminator. Company Z may be an equal opportunity employer even though Company Z has no black or other minority employees. Concretely, all companies can now be employers guaranteeing equal opportunities by simple proclamation. »

We see accountability measures that include external requirements as a potential catalyst for better and faster change. For example, in a law firm, requiring a breakdown of the racial and gender composition of teams, as well as billable hours, and quantifications of substantial work assignments during the contract negotiation process would provide transparency regarding diversity goals. In other industries, these might take the form of vendor or supplier requirementsbanking strategiesand other ways to connect ways of doing business with the need for substantial DEI progress. These external requirements can use penalties or incentives based on compliance.

Leaving DEI scaffolds in place can create the “illusion of inclusion», against which organizations must fight. A moral imperative is lost when these efforts become a signal instead of a cultural and social necessity. It becomes a public relations and human resources function that maintains the status quo. It is only through critical self-examination that organizations can learn to deal with this uncomfortable reality, which has the potential to empower them to create an equitable work environment based on a foundation and a culture of shared responsibility. and organizational accountability.

Consider that since 1955, on 1,800 CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, there have only been 22 black CEOs. Currently there are only five black CEOs in the Fortune 500. A similar picture is playing out in the legal profession where black male and female lawyers remain woefully underrepresented in associate positions, at 1.36% and 0.86%, respectively. Similar problems can be seen in academia, Medication, and STEM. This systemic leadership deficit shows that black decision makers are still not at the table today, despite the call.

We are beginning to challenge these racist and gendered systems by acknowledging their inequalities and creating new ways to hold ourselves and our external partners accountable for how we maintain or disrupt them.


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