Overcoming Resistance to DEI Initiatives with Awareness, Accountability and Advocacy

3 tips to drive DEI engagement

We know that leadership and employee resistance to any corporate program, let alone a DEI initiative, can thwart or dampen its effectiveness. A recent Harvard Business Review article by Eric Shuman, Eric Knowles and Amit Goldenberg, To Overcome Resistance to DEI, Understand What’s Driving It, outlines three reasons people resist DEI initiatives along with the three kinds of resistance, and offers suggestions to overcome them.

The authors note that:

People resist because they experience at least one of three forms of threat: status threat, merit threat and moral threat.

Depending on the kinds of threat they experience, they then tend to engage in three kinds of resistance: defending, denying and distancing.

Their findings align with the conversations I’ve had with clients and colleagues who are implementing DEI strategies, and perhaps you’ve experienced this pushback in your workplace.

Overcoming Resistance to Barriers takes Awareness, Accountability and Allyship

I’ve found that three factors impact driving change in organizations, especially when it comes to advancing women and engaging men as advocates.

Lack of Awareness

Men, women and people of color are all having vastly different experiences in the workplace. Don’t believe me? As a man in a management position, try taking a trusted female colleague to coffee and asking about her experiences in their company and industry. Then listen without interrupting or judging. You’ll hear stories of things happening in your company that you had no idea were going on.

For example, there is a strong chance you’ll hear about one or more of these common microaggressions that women face daily:

  • Her voice is talked over/interrupted
  • Her expertise is questioned
  • It’s assumed and expected she’ll take on all the office “housework”
  • She’s called a “Working Mom” when her male peers aren’t labeled “Working Dads”
  • She’s had a man take credit for her ideas or work in meetings

While these incidents may seem minor to most men, when women and members of under-represented groups encounter them multiple times on the same day, it becomes a significant issue. Ask yourself, how are microaggressions impacting our engagement, productivity and retention?

Lack of Accountability

According to an early McKinsey Women in the Workplace study, 76% of companies have articulated the business case for gender diversity, but only 13% hold people accountable for tangible results. Business leaders track EVERYTHING in business. And yet, very few track anything when it comes to advancing women.

As the Women in the Workplace 2023 study found, tracking outcomes is critical. They suggest these starting points for organizational change:

  • Measure employees’ outcomes and experiences – and use the data to close the gaps
  • Take an intersectional approach to outcome tracking
  • Share internal goals and metrics with employees

Additionally, they encourage organizations to support and reward managers as key drivers in fostering DEI and navigating cultural shifts by:

  • Clarifying managers’ priorities and rewarding results
  • Equipping managers with the skills they need to be successful
  • Ensuring managers have the time and support to get it right

Wondering what to measure and track? Here are my thoughts on some metricsevery business leader should be tracking and holding people accountable for when it comes to advancing women.

Lack of Allyship

Talent isyour bottom line. Given the current demand for employees, it’s really in your company’s best interests to address the business case for diversity and gender equity in the workplace. If you don’t talk about the reasons that hold back or drive out your employees, you can’t make progress on developing the talent pipeline you need to grow and compete.

The companies out there that are making real progress have male (and female) allies within the organization who do four things: Listen, Learn, Lead and Have the Will to lead change.

What do allies do?

  • Listen and Seek to Understand
  • Create a Business Case – Hold People Accountable
  • Set An Example to Correct Bias
  • Sponsor or Mentor Women
  • Engage Others
  • Demonstrate Advocacy – Visible, Vocal Leadership

Ask yourself and your leadership team what are you personally doing to foster inclusion and equity in your organization. Attracting and retaining talent is job one for managers at every level in the company, and engaging employees is essential. Are you ready to challenge the status quo and work to create a future that values diversity and is truly inclusive? How will you acknowledge and address resistance to DEI initiatives? How can you bring Awareness, Accountability and Allyship to your organization in ways that will make a real impact?

Know the answers to these questions. The future of your business depends on it.

For a deeper dive, check out my Overcoming Resistance to DEI Initiatives with Awareness, Accountability and Advocacy white paper for more details.

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