3 Reasons Diversity Programs Fail (and 1 Strategy That Works)

Christy Pettit Mentoring, News, Pollinate Insights Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Organizations around the world are striving to make gains on diversity and inclusion, their actions spurred by tragic news headlines and a rising tide of activism. 

It’s clear that eliminating systemic racism – including addressing the unconscious biases that underpin it – is a monumental undertaking. It’s also clear that the cost of not doing so is enormous in terms of wasted individual potential and missed opportunities to benefit from the innovation that can arise through the melding of a greater variety of perspectives.

People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy. — Oliver Goldsmith

Supporting diversity and inclusion helps companies attract and retain the talent they need, and enables creative problem solving – involving diverse perspectives – that makes organizations more competitive.

As McKinsey & Company recently observed: “The unequal performance of companies in the same industry and country suggests that gender, racial, and ethnic diversity are competitive differentiators: more diverse companies lure better talent and improve their decision making, customer orientation, and employee satisfaction.” McKinsey also found that teams that are culturally diverse are 35% more likely to outperform competitors. 

Similarly, the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020 found that “job loyalty rises as businesses address employee needs, from diversity and inclusion to sustainability, reskilling, and more.”

However, while the imperative to improve diversity and inclusion in our workplaces is clear, less obvious is how to achieve the desired impact. Breaking real ground on diversity and inclusion is truly hard, ongoing work; one-off initiatives and lip service will not do. Real change demands the ongoing cross-pollination of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across the organization. 

The following are three mistakes that organizations commonly make that impede progress on the diversity and inclusion front:

1. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are not part of the overall business strategy 

Successful diversity and inclusion strategies start at the top, with the C-suite leadership, and involve the entire company. They’re not viewed solely as an HR initiative.  Companies must have strong organizational goals and specific objectives for diversity and inclusion to enact systemic, lasting change. The commitment must be woven into the very fabric of the organization for it to be effective. 

“Companies have to actually, truly, be ready and willing to address their impact, and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Colour of Change said in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article.

2. Diversity and inclusion interventions are limited to one-off training events

“The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash,” according to researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in the Harvard Business Review article, Why Diversity Programs Fail

Among the tactics that do work are thoughtful, structured mentorship programs that focus on achieving the organizational goals and objectives discussed above.  Mentoring (in pairs or groups) provides a unique opportunity to support underrepresented team members, and is an engaging and effective way for people to increase their diversity knowledge, cross-cultural understanding and participation rates. Mentorship programs strongly convey the goodwill that people, organizations, associations and the community at large have for those who are trying to develop themselves. An often-cited study by Dobbin, Kalev and Erin Kelly backs this observation, concluding that mentoring worked better than diversity training and networking in increasing the number of women and minority leaders in management.

3. The outcomes from diversity and inclusion initiatives are not tracked or measured

No doubt you are familiar with the management dictum, “what gets measured gets done.” Diversity and inclusion initiatives are no different. That work begins with getting a baseline evaluation of key culture, diversity, engagement and hiring metrics, and then tracking and measuring results over time. Tracking and measurement is also vital for mentorship program outcomes, in stark contrast to casual, transactional ‘speed-mentoring’ coffee dates that yield little in the way of meaningful, tangible results. The success of any mentorship program should be measured against KPIs established at the outset, and include following up with mentoring pairs and groups to see if they received value from the relationship and are happy with the outcomes.

The strategy that works: Mentorship

Pollinate Mentoring ProgramPollinate mentorship programs have been used to advance diversity initiatives since 2012, including supporting thousands of mentors and mentees involved in MentorNet, a national U.S. initiative aimed at encouraging women and underrepresented groups in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Pairing STEM students with supportive mentors has been shown to increase their intent to stay in their programs and to work in the field.

Key takeaways about mentorship programs for diversity and inclusion

  • Mentoring creates stronger ties between people and can break down barriers of gender, culture, ethnicity, and age.
  • Mentoring creates more opportunities for “sponsorship,” the ability for leaders to know, assess and recommend people they might not have otherwise encountered, and the ability for mentees to get exposure to opportunities aligned with their interests and capabilities otherwise unavailable to them. While not every mentoring relationship results in sponsorship, research indicates that people who are mentored are more promotable, more engaged and more productive.
  • Mentorship program success begins with recruitment and matching processes: Mentors and mentees who are strategically matched get traction together faster and are more productive. When recruiting mentors and mentees, always identify considerations for diverse or special populations. How will your program ensure equity and a positive experience for all participants? Define a matching process that takes into consideration diversity, participant goals and mentor-mentee collaboration style
  • Foundational education about how to approach diversity in mentoring partnerships makes a real difference to the success of the pairs or groups. Pollinate programs include mentoring education on diversity, reducing unconscious bias barriers and key areas mentors must navigate to avoid stereotype threat and other potential risks of cross-cultural mentoring. Mentors are encouraged to take responsibility for educating themselves about the challenges faced by other races and cultures, rather than expecting their mentees to provide that education.
  • Mentoring is rewarding for mentors as well as mentees. The benefits for mentors include the value of making one’s own tacit knowledge explicit and learning from mentees’ knowledge and experiences.

Learn more about Pollinate Mentorship Programs

Book a call with a mentorship program expert

Share this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *