Although the conversation around racism, equity and inclusion has continued, many leaders are still struggling to take the first steps to address the systems and policies within their organizations that marginalize and restrict access to opportunities for Black people. Over the last two decades of doing this work, we have worked with a variety of organizations across industries and see three common obstacles that hinder progress for DEI initiatives.

Leaders are defensive.

Every leader wants to feel they have done everything possible to build a nurturing culture that helps to grow every employee hired.  Unfortunately, when assessment results point out the disparities for Black employees or Black employees share their experiences of being discriminated against, it causes many leaders to defend and explain instead of listening and learning.  Inevitably the conversation eventually shifts and the focus is now on the leader and their hurt feelings or defense strategy. The voice and concerns of the employee is once again ignored when this happens. It takes courage to sit, listen and learn about the harm some employees experience. This is the time to be bold and approach the conversation with curiosity.  

Change requires real action, not just talk.

The public statements that flooded the media immediately after the murder of George Floyd have not translated into actions that are designed to change behavior, systems, and policies. Going beyond the statements is imperative in addressing racial disparities. This is not just about hosting awareness sessions.  Organizations that are committed are doing the hard work and examining recruiting, hiring, pay equity, supplier sourcing, marketing initiatives, and their philanthropic efforts in order to address the inequities that still exist. This is about long term systemic change but a simple quick win would be to ensure that your holiday calendar acknowledges the diversity of your employees.

Dysfunctional teams are tasked with implementing DEI culture change.

Patrick Lencioni cites five dysfunctions of teams: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.  In too many instances, well-intentioned teams tasked with leading the antiracism initiative suffer from too many of these five dysfunctions. They are not committed to the process so having regular meetings  becomes problematic. There is no sense of trust because everyone is caught up in power plays. To do this work well requires vulnerability; it’s a part of the journey.  In addition, the team shys away from speaking candidly about racism because they lack healthy conflict resolution and see the organizational challenges through rose-colored glasses. These kinds of teams will have multiple meetings and before long the momentum dissipates and nothing gets accomplished.

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