The Illusion of Inclusion

Avoid performative and disingenuous inclusion initiatives this month (and always)

As we engage in Pride and Juneteenth initiatives and festivities this month, it’s critical to be mindful of disingenuous, performative diversity and inclusion statements and initiatives. Watch out for organizations that are rainbow-washing and call them in to be accountable for their behaviors outside of Pride month. Honor the real racial history of Juneteenth by educating and celebrating appropriately.

The illusion of inclusion is code for well-intentioned behavior that is ultimately unhelpful. Intent vs. impact. The issue with diversity and inclusion statements and initiatives that are short term or developed as a knee-jerk reaction is just that: they are short lived and inconsistent.  They are often just words with no real actions developed to address systems or usher in change.  Inequality cannot be addressed by words alone; we need concrete steps to take action to drive true inclusion.

Centuries of inequality cannot be undone in swift “check the box” actions (like rainbow washing).  It takes time to embed diversity and inclusion into the culture of your organization.  To avoid being disingenuous, watch out for these main pitfalls and illusions.

7 disingenuous diversity and inclusion illusions to avoid

Poor measurement.  Anything that matters in business is measured.  If diversity and inclusion are important, they warrant metrics to measure success.  Consider measuring representation from minority groups throughout the employee experience from recruiting to hiring, to pay, to promotions, to separations.

Smoking mirrors.  These are the false optics people use to represent diversity or inclusive behavior. This is using inauthentic stock photos on your website to falsely represent diversity, or making showy financial contributions to minority charities. This is posting pictures on social media without taking action to address systems behind the scenes.

Corporate speak.  No one wants to hear more rhetoric.  They want real, honest dialogues and stories about diversity and inclusion.  They want to hear CEOs and C-suite leaders sharing their perspectives and showing vulnerability and real emotion for the human side of work, followed up by action to address inequitable systems.

Lack of diversity.  C-suites and boards are led by 92%+ white males and these numbers have been stagnant for many years.  If you are committed to inclusion, you must be doing things to drive diversity the top layers of your organization. We have a broken pipeline that keeps diverse populations at the front lines from moving up through the ranks.

women in the workplace pipeline

Excuses.  Dismissively saying, “it is getting better” or “it has always been this way” or “our industry is male-dominated” is not acceptable.  Accepting the status quo leads to more of the status quo.  If we want things to change, we have to be willing to lead the change.

Lack of resources.  With anything important in business, it requires time and money. If DEI is a critical issue to the business, like any other new product launch or strategic priority, it should be resourced accordingly. Training and education is an important piece of this resource mix, while simultaneously – systems need to be addressed and measurements need to be put in place.

No definition.  Diversity and inclusion without clarity and intention will cause stagnation.  Have a documented, intentional statement outlining what diversity and inclusion mean, why they matter, and provide a strategy and roadmap for how you are taking action on them over time.


Active allyship is about addressing systemic change

True allyship addresses the broken systems we have set up as a society – education, housing, voting, policing, healthcare, advantage the majority group and disadvantage underrepresented groups. Allies use their voice for lasting positive change, not for performative photo ops or profit-driven marketing campaigns.

Want to do better, and not sure where to start?  That is why we developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with accountability for diversity. You can also check out all of our other virtual and live program offerings.