5 Myths Debunked About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) (Blog Post)

Catalyst demystifies DEI, setting you up for success.

Whether you’re new to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or you’ve been committed for years, chances are that you have fallen prey to some of the myths and legends out there. Don’t feel bad—there’s so much misinformation about DEI that it can be challenging to distinguish fiction from fact.

Here are 5 myths we debunked at our recent webinar “DEI Efficacy: Preempting Pitfalls for Sustained Impact and Value.”

MYTH: With so much polarization and politicization these days, it’s more important than ever to execute DEI initiatives flawlessly and beyond reproach.

FACT: It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, you probably will! Sometimes, the best way to get it right is to first get it wrong.

Many—probably most—of us fear exposing our ignorance and missteps in public. Instead of hiding fear, the most productive thing to do is to acknowledge it. Being honest about getting things wrong helps to build trust with our colleagues. And if you have created harm by taking a wrong step, whether on the personal level or the corporate level, hold yourself accountable. Say, “We messed up; we tried this thing; it didn’t [work],” advises Roselle Gonsalves, Managing Director, Inclusion & Reconciliation at ATB Financial. “We’re going to try again. The best apology is changed behavior.”

MYTH: Once you create an effective DEI strategy, you can implement it across all the regions in which your company has a presence.

FACT: Each region needs its own DEI strategy tailored to the problems in that region that need to be solved.

Before you start measuring and strategizing, you need to know what problem you are trying to solve. The reality is that the problems are different in different regions. Lynette Barksdale, Global Head, Inclusion & Diversity at Visa, notes, “The measure of success that I might have in North America is very different than what I’m looking at in Turkey. I need to look at the global footprint as a company and understand who the employees are [across regions]. That’s why self-identification is so important. It helps us understand the communities so that we can identify what we need to measure.”

MYTH: There is so much resistance to DEI that there’s no point trying to explain why we need it.

FACT: It’s on you and your organization to explain the meaning of DEI and connect it to your company’s values so that everyone is speaking the same language.

Yes, there’s a lot of misinformation about, and even fear of, DEI. That’s why it’s necessary to create a shared language and understanding and expectations for what DEI looks like for your company, says Natacha Buchanan, Chief Diversity Officer at ConocoPhillips. “Having a shared understanding and language is fundamentally important to effectively speak to the value of DEI both to employees and the organization. Ensure that your company has clear cultural values around inclusion, equity, and diversity.” And then listen and understand where the fear is coming from so that you can address it. After all, you can’t expect someone to see the value in DEI if they themselves do not feel seen or heard.

MYTH: Once you crack the code of successful DEI at your company, you can focus your attention elsewhere.

FACT: DEI work is iterative and changes over time as you continue to learn and grow. The work is never truly completed, and that’s okay.

DEI work is not something you solve for and then move on from. Be prepared to try new things and then measure, listen, and improve on what you have—repeatedly over time. “To ensure that it’s sustainable,” says Barksdale, “you have to work across the continuum of the employee lifecycle [and embed] the right practices and principles.”

Along the way, adds Gonsalves, we learn not only from our own mistakes and successes but also from one another. “There is power in us sharing with one another—not just our successes, which are really important, but also our learnings and opportunities for growth. That means [connecting] with people outside my organization because we have a connective tissue that joins us.”

MYTH: You can always add DEI later, when you have time and a budget for it.

FACT: DEI is intrinsically connected with the values of your organization.

DEI work is not an add-on or stand-alone initiative with its own agenda. Rather, DEI adds value to your company on a molecular level because it strengthens company values. Buchanan notes that it should be “tied to the core of who you are from a value perspective.” DEI is about everyone and is for everyone. After all, your identity “shapes who you are and how you move through the world.” And who you are brings value to the company.

Is your company a Catalyst Supporter? Watch the Supporter-exclusive webinar on DEI efficacy. Not yet a Supporter? Learn more to join the Catalyst community.


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