Navigation mobile icon
Mobile navigation close window icon
Capabilities icon
what we do
Expand section icon
additional services to ask about:
talent strategy & development
employee engagement & retention
total rewards
change strategy & enablement

Is Fear a Barrier to Inclusion & Belonging? Why Companies Balk at Action

DEIB programs are surging across the American workplace. Why are some employers still not taking action?

Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Belonging (DEIB) initiatives (think: diverse hiring practices, employee resource groups, and inclusivity training programs) aren’t just good practice — the data shows companies that practice DEIB outperform financially, innovate more, and have higher customer trust and employee retention rates. Perhaps that’s why focus on DEIB programs is surging across the American workplace.

That’s not to say that every DEIB initiative rollout is good — there’s plenty of bad and ugly, too. Take Starbucks’ decision in summer 2020 to ban its employees from wearing Black Lives Matters paraphernalia, despite a commitment on Twitter to support the BLM movement and be “a part of change” — a 180 that one Barista told Buzzfeed news was “disappointing in ways I cannot express in words.” It’s not just multi-billion dollar corporations, either. In spring 2021, students at Kansas University reacted with anger after a department shakeup supposedly intended to improve DEIB initiatives ended with the termination of two employees, both of whom are black. In short: a poorly executed DEIB initiative can backfire, perpetuating racism and undermining employees’ faith in a company.

Why is successfully implementing DEIB programs so hard for so many organizations? In short, it takes real commitment to the DEIB values, and a refusal to bend to fear that the full implementation of those values will “offend” customers or employees, or hurt the business. Real DEIB is not about lip service, but real, quantifiable action. That action can highly benefit your business — and now more than ever, it’s a vital starting point. “Employees care about DEIB,” says Leesa Hill, senior director and head of DEIB at Enspira HR. “If you aren’t prioritizing it as an organization, you’re losing out on top talent that’s newer to the workforce, who won't come work for you.”

Why Some Companies Fear DEIB

Some companies are forced into DEIB initiatives (say, after a public controversy), and some simply want to do the right thing. Either way, it’s important for leadership to be committed for the right reasons. That’s because, says Rebecca Harris, Enspira HR’s director of human capital, DEIB initiatives do carry some risk of blowback. Companies without leaders committed to DEIB are less willing to be bold and take the risks required in successful initiatives. “The companies that don’t implement DEIB programs well are worried — they don’t want to ruffle feathers, or upset people,” Harris says.

If leadership knows why they’re committed to DEIB, they’re ready for any blowback. DEIB initiatives are not about making everyone happy, says Hill. “Some folks will say, ‘Why even do it if some people in our organization don’t agree with it?’ Or, ‘I’m afraid we’re going to lose some employees who don't think we should be talking about DEIB in the workplace.’” Perhaps they’re afraid of losing customers after taking a “controversial” stance. 

But this is not the correct approach to DEIB. “Well, why not flip that coin over?” Hill says. “What about the people you could be losing because you’re not talking about this in the workplace?”

Conquering that fear is often step one in a successful DEIB implementation. “People are so afraid of saying and doing the wrong thing that they do nothing,” says Hill. “The silence is complacency, and it is complicit.”

The Secret Sauce, and Quick and Long Wins

The secret sauce for any successful DEIB program has two main ingredients: DEIB must be authentic, and it must be embedded. Authenticity spurns fear; an embedded initiative means both leadership and employees have skin in the game.

But where to go from there? Successful managers break goals into two categories: quick wins and long wins.

Quick wins are vital. “Building the foundation of DEIB programs, especially in large companies, takes a lot of time — it’s like steering a huge ship,” says Harris. Often, Enspira HR’s first move is to parse the data an organization already has on its diversity. Examining a company’s diversity — what percentage of your employees are based globally? What percentage of your employees are people of color? — helps set reasonable goals.

It’s equally important to understand what sort of inclusion programs are already in place. If, for instance, a company already has great parental leave benefits, that’s a terrific starting point. Are men taking parental leave as often as women? Building out such programs can be a solid first step. You’re already ahead of the game.

Most DEIB programs take much longer to bear fruit, though. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” says Harris. That’s why we build strategic roadmaps to give companies a one- to two-year guide on how to embed DEIB into all facets of their work. “At the end of the day, companies have to listen to their employees and be willing to center the employee experience. You’re working with managers, HR, learning and development teams, everyone. You’re deciding how to evaluate performance, deciding on a philosophy. And you’ve got a lot of different stakeholders involved,” Harris says. “As a result, it’s going to take longer. But it is worth the investment, because it’s going to have a ripple effect through the organization.”

Common Mistakes and Their Fixes

A fearful approach to DEIB manifests itself in different ways. Here are several real-world examples of common mistakes and their fixes.

  • “Diversity is going to solve for itself.” A number of executives have spouted this line, spinning Gen Z’s “open-mindedness” and greater racial/ethnic diversity as an easy fix for their companies. But hiring a diverse group of young employees and interns is not a diversity fix. “I call BS,” says Harris. “When someone says this, they’re saying it's a problem they don't want to deal with. It’s an excuse — the executive is simply not interested in doing the work.” Besides, the impetus for proper DEIB programs comes from the top (executives), not the bottom (young interns); hiring interns will not solve for limited diversity at the manager and leadership levels of the organization. 
  • Not putting your money where your mouth is. “I’ve seen plenty of organizations say DEIB initiatives are important — and then not put financial and human resources behind this claim, or be willing to listen to their employees' concerns,” says Harris. Then, when a program fails and its DEIB point people leave the company, executives use this as an excuse: Well, we tried. Budget prioritization is crucial. Need some ideas on how to spend that money? How about investing in your underrepresented talent via leadership programs, or finding an external partner that can help with future hires, or a corporate social responsibility initiative? Remember, a good DEIB initiative invests in employees and partnerships across the board.
  • Burying DEIB in HR. All too often, DEIB efforts are shoveled off to HR, where they disappear into the background noise. “DEIB is everyone’s responsibility. Make sure your DEIB point person is in a position to influence the leadership team,” Harris says. DEIB initiatives should report directly to the executive team, ensuring they have the clout necessary to embed authentic programs in your company. Only then can diversity, equity, inclusivity and belonging become a true — and effective — part of your company.

Leesa (she/her) has 25 years of experience in the Human Resources industry with deep expertise in the areas of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), and Learning and Development. Prior to Enspira, she worked in human resource roles at Biogen, Pfizer and Kforce Inc. She has a proven track record of creating and implementing successful DEIB strategies in a variety of organizational settings which includes a pace setting women on boards program, fit-for-purpose strategic roadmaps, launching and leveraging Employee Resource Groups/Networks and Diversity Councils, creating and leading a years long DEIB-focused community of practice and being an active member of the HR D+I Council. Leesa has a Certificate in Diversity & Inclusion for HR from Cornell’s ILR School, is certified in the ED&I 360 & Inclusive Behavior Inventory Assessment and earned her BFA in Dance from Shenandoah Conservatory. Leesa actively mentors women from underrepresented groups who are passionate in the space of DEIB.

Rebecca has over 10 years of experience in HR, with a focus in Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging and Talent Acquisition. Prior to Enspira, she worked for Viasat, Inc. leading the Diversity & Inclusion global workforce strategy. She is also certified in conducting Aperian Global’s GlobeSmart® Inclusive Behaviors Inventory & 360 assessments. Previously, she worked at Biogen in Diversity & Inclusion and University Relations roles. Before Biogen, she worked in operations roles in nonprofit community development and in recruiting. She has a Certificate in Diversity & Inclusion Management from Cornell’s ILR School, a Certificate in HR Management & Analytics from Wharton, a Master's degree in International Relations from King's College, London, and a Bachelor's degree in History from UC Santa Barbara. Rebecca is passionate about building inclusive spaces – where everyone feels that the differences they bring are valued, and that they belong.

more insights

subscribe

Subscribe to our newsletter for regular insight and news

Our Latest White Paper!
Human Led, AI Assisted
Uniting Artificial and Human Intelligence to Combat Bias in Hiring
Download Today

more insight

How to Execute an Effective Total Rewards Program In 3 Simple Steps

Current workforce realities such as competing job opportunities and The Great Resignation make Total Rewards programs vital for attracting and retaining talent. Here’s how companies can do it right.

Read More >>
As Right-to-Disconnect Laws Hit Europe, Will U.S. Follow Suit?

Over the last five years, there’s been an increasing focus on laws centered around digital protections and worker’s rights, specifically the “right to disconnect.”

Read More >>
Many Companies Are Saving Incredible Amounts of Cash During the Pandemic. Where Is It Going?

By downsizing or giving up office space altogether, companies can—and should—redirect money to their employees in meaningful ways. Here's how.

Read More >>
AI & Recruiting: Leveraging Artificial Intelligence While Avoiding Bias

As employers contend with the Great Resignation, the use of artificial intelligence for talent acquisition is more important than ever.

Read More >>
Fear Drives More People at Work Than You Think. Let's Change That.

No matter how scary the prospect, striving to achieve your career goals will always yield better results than staying stuck and afraid.

Read More >>
Lack of Digital Adoption Is Becoming More Common in the Workforce, and That's Problematic

When employees fail to understand or properly utilize important tech tools in the workplace, it can have far-reaching implications and may even impact an organization’s bottom line.

Read More >>
AI Recruiting Tools May Be the Future, But Proceed With Caution

AI recruitment tools--while incredibly useful--can also introduce bias. What can companies do to ensure they increase efficiency without harming equity?

Read More >>
How Companies Can Leverage AI Recruiting to Increase Representation in Hiring

A range of approaches to designing and utilizing AI can actually help diversity hiring.

Read More >>
I Use This One Tool to Get 125% More Done

We're trending towards longer and longer work days--but by embracing a decision-making ideology and a task management tool, we don't have to.

Read More >>
New Hires Weigh In: How Do You Survive The Working World?

Navigating a new job is hard--and managing its ups and downs as a new hire during a pandemic is arguably even harder.

Read More >>
Stress Is Rewiring Our Brains. Can Training Like Navy SEALs Help Combat It?

While few employees are running miles in combat boots, mentally training like the elite military unit may help us reclaim our brains from stress.

Read More >>
Working From Home Has Changed Your Brain and Body. Here’s How.

The virtual workspace isn’t going away. Here’s how WFH is affecting us — and how these changes could reshape the workforce as we know it.

Read More >>
The Life of an HR Executive: a Roundtable Discussion

Human Resources executives are central to the success of an organization, setting the tone for how employees can contribute and thrive. Here, a few industry leaders share their insights.

Read More >>
The Ahmaud Arbery Trial's Social Justice Ramifications Affect Companies and Their Employees. Here's How.

Processing emotionally charged events can impact people in ways that are difficult to manage. What can be done to support them?

Read More >>
Artificial Intelligence Is Shaping the Workforce in Ways You've Never Imagined

From cobots that collaborate with humans to HoloLens, a wearable holographic computer, AI is no longer science fiction.

Read More >>
Yes, Your Nostalgia Is Valid. That Doesn't Mean It Belongs At Work.

As old paradigms fall by the wayside, how we shape corporate culture and do business altogether is transforming at breakneck speeds.

Read More >>
How the LGBTQ+ Movement is Dismantling the Gender Binary System

Uniqueness of identification has grown and blossomed into a spectrum of diversity, challenging the way companies think about DEIB.

Read More >>
The Big Quit: How Burnout Is Reshaping the Workforce

A number of complex forces are steering people away from the workforce, but arguably the most common one is burnout.

Read More >>
Is the 5-Hour Workday the Answer to All Our Problems?

Of all the theories that aim to engender better work-life balance, the five-hour workday is one of the most compelling.

Read More >>
Why You're Probably Using the Word "Strategy" Incorrectly

Just because you say you're operating strategically doesn't mean your plan is strategic.

Read More >>
No, You Can’t Always Just “Be Yourself” At Work. Here’s Why. 

Yes, “be yourself” is definitely sound advice--and these days, employers are known to tell their employees the same thing. But there are limits.

Read More >>
Is Fear a Barrier to Inclusion & Belonging? Why Companies Balk at Action

DEIB programs are surging across the American workplace. Why are some employers still not taking action?

Read More >>
Speed vs. Quality: The Timeless Dilemma

It's not always easy to know when to prioritize speed vs. quality in business. There may be more than one right answer.

Read More >>
Intent vs. Impact: The Communication Disconnect

Your words often don't have the impact you intend them to--which can be problematic, especially in the workplace.

Read More >>
Feedback Doesn't Have to be Scary

Giving and receiving valuable feedback isn't always an easy task. Here are some insights to help you along the way.

Read More >>
Does Unlimited PTO Work?

Unlimited PTO sounds like a dream come true. Is it here to stay, or just the flavor of the week?

Read More >>
Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace: A Webinar

Join us for a dynamic discussion with neurodiversity experts on the benefits of employing a diverse team.

Read More >>
Lessons in Biases from the Olympics

Our biases manifest everywhere--and even during our most celebrated and joyous traditions, they can leave an impact.

Read More >>
A New Norm? Exploring the Four-Day Workweek

Are we truly our most productive when we work five days a week? Recent studies suggest otherwise.

Read More >>
Reflections on LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Corporate America

For Pride Month 2021, Enspira interviewed two pioneers in the LGBTQ+ business community who continue to inspire change.

Read More >>
How to Address & Support Mental Health

Chances are we all know someone who's struggling with unspoken issues. Here's  how to recognize it, thoughtfully reach out, and help.

Read More >>
Four Steps to Cultivating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

If we want to see real, sustainable change, we all must continue to acknowledge and celebrate diversity in the workplace.

Read More >>
Caregivers: Working Women in a Pandemic

The raging pandemic has pushed people beyond reasonable limits, and has adversely affected women disproportionately.

Read More >>
Propelling Gender & Racial Equity in STEM

The world is facing monumental challenges in the time of COVID-19, widening existing gaps in racial and gender equity.

Read More >>
Your frontline managers’ capability & effectiveness matters now more than ever. Here’s what you need.

It’s now more important than ever to ensure your organization has strong people manager capability and effectiveness.

Read More >>
Disrupting Your Workplace Culture with “The 3 Bs of Belonging”

How inclusive is your organization? Simply checking the representation boxes and creating policies isn't enough.

Read More >>

explore our offerings & capabilities

additional services

Hand holding plant icon

talent strategy & development

Creating innovative talent management strategies to help build and retain a world-class workforce.

Hand shake icon

employee engagement & retention

Developing comprehensive employee engagement and retention strategies to improve productivity, reduce turnover, and foster innovation.

Gift box icon

total rewards analysis

Identifying optimal combinations of benefits, compensation, rewards, and recognition to enhance employee engagement and performance.

Potted plan icon

change strategy & enablement

Guiding organizations through complex and challenging evolutions to keep employees engaged throughout the journey.

Project development on a desk

Enspira reimagines and revolutionizes the human-work experience with innovative HR solutions that put the power of business purpose in the hands of your people.

contact us