8 Ways We Go Wrong with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)

Lessons Learned from Real-Life Cases

Samin Saadat
Executive Director, Posted on Jun 30, 2023

In today's diverse and interconnected world, fostering diversity, equity, inclusion and (DEI) is essential for creating a fair and thriving society. Many organizations and individuals have taken up the cause of addressing DEI issues, working towards creating a more inclusive environment. However, it is important to critically examine our approaches and tactics to ensure that we are truly making progress. In my experience working on various DEI cases, I have come across a few insights that I believe are worth sharing.  
These insights challenge common practices that hinder progress and perpetuate discrepancies rather than resolving them.

Blaming, judgment, exclusion, and generalizations only serve to widen the divide.

1. Cultivating DEI as an Integral Aspect of Company Culture, Beyond a Separate Committee

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is about more than just having programs or committees in companies. It should be a part of how we interact with each other every day, even when we have a lot in common, like in a family business where most shares genes and environment. Following DEI means listening to others without judging them, having helpful conversations, and making fair decisions. This way of thinking should be a natural part of your company culture, connected to DEI principles. When you create a workplace that values and supports these positive exchanges, you'll have a team that includes different kinds of people and treats everyone fairly.

2. Avoid Generalizations: Minority vs. Majority Perspectives

It is essential to avoid generalizations that attribute specific feelings or experiences to entire groups. Labelling how minorities or majorities feel can lead to hypocrisy and hinder meaningful dialogue. Every individual's experiences are unique, and while patterns may exist, it is important to approach conversations with an open mind, allowing for diverse perspectives to be heard and respected.

3. Embracing DEI as a Strategic Imperative, Not Just a Business Goal

In the realm of business, it has become increasingly common to witness companies setting goals focused on achieving specific levels of diversity within a given timeframe. However, when these goals are viewed solely as targets, separate from the overall strategy of the organization, they risk becoming disconnected from the core purpose of a business—to add value and generate revenue. In such instances, a detrimental lose-lose-lose scenario can emerge, affecting employers, employees, and customers alike. It is imperative to recognize that setting business goals that prioritize diversity and inclusion is more than a mere checkbox exercise; it is a strategic imperative that enhances the overall value proposition and fosters an environment where diversity becomes a catalyst for success.

4. Fostering Respect for Differences: Not Unconditional Love

The pursuit of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) does not require professing love and unconditional support for every individual belief or difference. DEI is primarily about fostering respect for these differences. It recognizes that it is impractical and unnecessary to expect adoration for every individual and their unique circumstances. However, DEI does demand a commitment to respecting these differences and creating an accommodating environment in the workplace to ensure optimal performance without causing undue hardship. (Undue hardship refers to a significant difficulty or expense that would be imposed on an organization if it were required to comply with a particular legal or contractual obligation)

The first step in solving any problem is building a MUTUAL understanding of the problem.

5. Promoting Dialogue through Acceptance and Embracing Mistakes

In an environment that encourages dialogue, learning, and growth, it is essential to allow all involved to make mistakes. Passing judgment and stifling dialogue hinders progress. By embracing mistakes as opportunities for learning and providing constructive feedback, we can create an environment that fosters growth and understanding. The first step in solving any problem is building a MUTUAL understanding of the problem, and dialogue serves as a powerful tool to help all involved parties gain insight and develop a shared understanding of the challenges at hand. By engaging in open and respectful dialogue, we can bridge gaps, challenge assumptions, and work towards effective solutions that benefit everyone.

6. Psychological Safety for ALL

Creating psychological safety is a cornerstone of effective DEI initiatives. This means providing a space where individuals can listen to understand, and engage in conversations without fear of judgment. Often, the focus is on ensuring psychological safety for marginalized groups, which is crucial. However, it is equally important to extend this safety to the majority as well. By creating an environment that encourages open and honest dialogue for all, we can bridge the gap between different groups and build understanding.

7. Moving Beyond Blame and Guilt

Promoting blame and guilt is counterproductive to the progress of DEI initiatives. While it's important to recognize historical and systemic injustices, assigning blame and fostering guilt often trigger defensiveness and reactive responses from all involved. Instead, a more effective strategy entails involving the majority in meaningful conversations, enabling them to gain diverse perspectives and motivating them to actively contribute to the creation of inclusive environments. It is crucial to ensure that everyone joins us on this journey, but it's also essential to acknowledge that marginalized individuals are justified in expressing their frustration and anger due to the prevalent lack of attentiveness among the majority.

8. Addressing Discrimination by Discriminating is not the Solution.

In the pursuit of inclusivity, it is essential to recognize that discrimination against any group is not the solution. Attempting to address historical injustices by excluding the majority or overprivileged individuals only perpetuates the cycle of discrimination. True progress lies in creating an inclusive environment where all individuals, regardless of their background, can thrive and contribute to collective growth.

Working on DEI cases has highlighted the importance of re-evaluating our approaches to create meaningful progress. Blaming, judgment, exclusion, and generalizations only serve to widen the divide. To truly foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, we must strive for constructive dialogue, psychological safety for all, and inclusive practices that recognize the value of every individual. By challenging our assumptions and adopting inclusive approaches, we can collectively create more equitable and harmonious workplaces.

About the Author: The human brain, behaviour and interactions with their environment never fail to intrigue Samin Saadat. After spending long hours in psychology labs at UBC and completing her Masters at the Sauder School of Business, she entered the workforce and observed a gap between what research suggests and what companies actually do to increase productivity and profitability. Over the last 10 years, Samin has developed expertise in people growth and culture building by working closely with business owners and individuals to develop the right mindset, skills and environment for cultivating a thriving workforce. Also, Samin strongly believes every single individual, regardless of their race, age, status, gender, position, mental health matters and physical conditions deserves to reach their full potential and they all have something unique to offer. Now, Samin is on a mission to bridge the existing gap in the workforce and support individuals and companies to reach their full potential through Jalapeño Employee Engagement—leveraging technology and psychology to bring research findings to life to help companies save invaluable dollars and to help individuals enhance their quality of life.