Many DEI strategies are merely performative. They are dramatic marketing or public relations campaigns, not designed to truly:
- Increase diversity of race, gender identity, age, religion, physical and mental ability, etc.
- Reduce inequities in pay, promotions, or other opportunities
- Integrate employees for maximum success
Businesses often take the easy way out, or at least what seems easier in the moment. Those who continue employing that strategy risk being left behind in our increasingly diverse and inequitable world. Let’s explore some ways to improve.
Why Businesses Launch Performative DEI Campaigns
As Simon Sinek would say, Start with Why. Determine why your brain patterning has you choose easy solutions that are typically ineffective when it comes to DEI.
In my circles of Landmark Worldwide graduates, we often talk about how humans are intensely driven to look good or avoid looking bad. There’s no reason to punish yourself for having these default settings. All humans have them. They are a product of the amygdala, which tries to keep us safe. The problem is that we don’t try to override these settings when they are unnecessary and ineffective, such as when corporations launch advertising and public relations campaigns rather than do the demanding work of truly diversifying their workplaces, making opportunities equitable, and fully including historically oppressed people in meaningful activities. In other words, they put on a show but fail to do the work behind the curtain. It’s performative—to look good and avoid looking bad.
The Seven Choices of Conflict Resolution Masters
Forgive yourself, if you are having this conflict (Choice One). Now, acknowledge yourself (Choice Two). You are here because you want to do something more effective with DEI in your workplace.
Forgive whoever led you to launch your performative campaign (Choice Three). It’s not all bad. There’s just more to be done.
Free the emotions and clear your mind (Choices Four and Five). You don’t make your best decisions when you’re feeling guilty or overthinking.
Assume you know nothing (Choice Six). A beginner’s mind will help you see new possibilities and absorb new information. It’s okay that you don’t know everything, even about DEI. That’s impossible for everyone.
Listen with your third ear (Choice Seven). Your knowledge only gets you so far when dealing with people. You have to be with them in moments, listening with compassion and for the hurts you can heal. You won’t be able to heal all of them. Start with the ones you’re responsible for.
How Diverse Is Your Workplace?
It’s not unusual for leaders to hire managers who seem a lot like them, but that is often a recipe for disaster. We need people around us who can do well what we don’t. They will often like that work, too, because they’re good at it. This is an opportunity for everyone involved, so push past your assumptions that the candidate that is your Mini Me is the right hire. Recruit from schools, affinity groups, domestic violence shelters, and other sources you might have overlooked in the past. Studies show your business will benefit in many ways.
What Have You Done to Help Employees Succeed?
Managers often reach out to me, wanting to make sure they don’t get sued for wrongful termination. I am also contacted by employees who want to sue their employers, if they can, for setting them up for failure. There are certainly times when the employees did what I call “self-selected termination,” but it’s often because the employer didn’t make expectations clear, changed the employee’s job duties, or assigned more work than could be completed within the required deadlines. They treated their employees like race cars they could drive hard and fast, even into walls. Sometimes, they dehumanized certain employees even more because of the managers’ hidden biases. In most cases, the employers simply didn’t do everything they could to ensure the employees were successful. There might have been legitimate reasons, but employers can save a lot of time, money, and energy when they do more before seeking to terminate employment.
What Efforts Are You Making to Include Employees in Key Decisions, Meetings, and Projects?
Few employees start a job with the goal of failing. From the moment they interview for the positions, they are often excited about the possibilities that might come from their employment. They might need to work so they can support themselves, but they also want to contribute to the employer, their co-workers, and the world at least to some degree. If you’re not creating a space for partnership in the employment relationship, you are missing many opportunities.
A recent opinion in the New York Times reminds us, “The legwork it takes to actually understand and solve these problems isn’t necessarily glamorous.” Perhaps this is why I don’t mind the work. Neither do the smart and skilled DEI professionals in this Senior Executive article.