In the modern workplace, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies have become an essential tool for organizations to promote equality and fairness among their employees. However, despite their good intentions, these policies can sometimes have unintended consequences that may end up hurting the very people they are meant to help. A recent study has shown that this can happen when organizations fail to take a systems-level view of their DEI policies, leading to a lack of consideration for subgroups within the target group, a failure to recognize the complexity of interactions between employees, and a lack of monitoring and adjustment.
Today we will explore these three key ways to avoid unintended consequences and ensure that your DEI policy has the positive impact you intend it to have.
One of the most significant factors that can lead to unintended consequences is a failure to consider subgroups within the target group. For instance, a policy aimed at helping women employees may overlook the experiences of women managers, who may face different challenges and have different needs. To avoid this, organizations must take a closer look at the variations within the target group and tailor their policies accordingly.
For example, a tech company may have a DEI policy aimed at increasing the number of women in leadership positions. However, the policy may inadvertently overlook the fact that women of color face additional barriers to advancement, such as bias and lack of representation in leadership roles. To address this, the company can modify its policy to include targeted initiatives to support women of color, such as mentorship programs, leadership training, and networking opportunities.
Another critical factor to consider is the complexity of interactions between employees. DEI policies can have a ripple effect, impacting various groups and subgroups in unanticipated ways. For instance, a policy aimed at increasing diversity in hiring may inadvertently lead to a decrease in opportunities for employees from underrepresented groups who are already in the organization.
To avoid this, organizations must think big and recognize that their policies are part of a larger system. They must consider how their policies will impact not only the target group but also other groups and subgroups within the organization.
For example, a financial services company may have a DEI policy aimed at increasing the number of diverse candidates in entry-level positions. However, the policy may inadvertently lead to a decrease in opportunities for internal mobility for existing employees from underrepresented groups. To address this, the company can modify its policy to include provisions for internal mentorship and career development programs for existing employees, ensuring that they have equal opportunities for advancement.
Finally, it is essential to monitor the policy as it is being rolled out to ensure that it is not having negative effects on employees. This requires ongoing data collection and analysis to identify any unintended consequences and make adjustments as needed.
For example, a healthcare organization may have a DEI policy aimed at increasing the number of disabled employees. However, the policy may inadvertently lead to ableism, where disabled employees are placed in lower-paying positions or are denied opportunities for advancement. To address this, the organization can track data on hiring, promotion, and compensation to ensure that disabled employees are not being disadvantaged. They can also establish a disability employee resource group to provide support and advocacy for disabled employees.
DEI policies have the potential to promote equality and fairness in the workplace, but they can also have unintended consequences that may hurt the very people they are meant to help. By considering subgroups, thinking big, and tracking closely, organizations can avoid these unintended consequences and ensure that their DEI policies have a positive impact. It is essential to recognize that DEI policies are not a one-size-fits-all solution and that they must be tailored to the specific needs of the organization and its employees. By taking a systems-level view and being proactive in monitoring and adjusting their policies, organizations can create a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all employees.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.