Spokane Journal of Business

Visions 2023: DEI initiatives to evolve toward systemic change

‘Day of reckoning’ likely for some approaches to inclusion training

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I believe 2023 will be the year that jumpstarts the Great Awakening. Businesses are paying close attention to inflation, an unstable economy, and a looming recession. Leaders are demanding accountability for every dollar spent. This intense scrutiny will kick accountability in every area of an organization into overdrive, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Access, and Belonging initiatives will not be exempt. Data-driven decisions will be the filter through which the cut will be made, pun intended. 

There is a day of reckoning coming for the charlatan DEI practitioners –the many individuals who have created shell consulting firms and flooded the market claiming to transform organizations with ambiguous messages of DEI best practices, shame, and blame “training” that increase the feeling of white guilt and yield very few results. 

Research shows that training on unconscious bias has insignificant effects on explicit biases and rarely changes how people act. In fact, Professor Lisa Nishii, of Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certification Program, says that teaching implicit bias makes biases more obvious. 

A meta-analysis of hundreds of programs to fight prejudice found that only a small number of diversity training programs clearly met their goals. Backlash is defined as a strong negative reaction that maintains or worsens the inequity that people are trying to eliminate. This can happen—and often does happen—with many popular diversity interventions introduced. According to the Harvard Business Review, even “the business case for diversity,” which has been used to frame and justify DEIAB work for decades, hurts the sense of belonging of marginalized groups and weakens support for diversity programs when organizational performance goes down. 

A big part of the problem is that people who work in DEIAB don’t have sufficient industry standards, consistency, or accountability. Only a few practitioners measure how well our interventions work, and even though there are many players in the DEIAB certification space, there is not much agreement on what skills and competencies a “good” practitioner needs to have. 

In the future, DEI initiatives will shift away from the traditional unconscious bias training approach to addressing systemic inequities, focusing on altering systems rather than individual people, which will reduce the likelihood that individual employees will feel personally attacked, shamed, and blamed along with reducing stealth resistance to attendance. 

By locating an organizational disparity in something less “personal” than an individual or group, such as a procedure, a policy, or a standardized set of norms, leaders can energize the workforce to work collaboratively to address the system instead of blaming a single person as the sole source of the inequity. 

The days of organizations requesting low-cost, 60-minute training sessions on unconscious bias will slowly fade away. Often, such trainings are presented by individuals with little to no background in human resources, organizational development, or organizational culture. Sometimes, the only qualification those trainers have is being a person from an underrepresented group, offering racial sensitivity training that is filled with rhetoric about the “business case for diversity” or limiting diversity training to black and white racial courageous conversations that leave every other form of diversity excluded. Charlatan DEI practitioners will find fewer opportunities to continue to provide such training without producing long-term results. 

There will be a shift from the extreme focus on racial and ethnic diversity alone to cognitive diversity and every other category we have immersed ourselves in. The focus will shift from rigid individualism to building inclusive workplace communities because a community is a place where everyone belongs. 

Other encouraging trends include: 

Consolidating and integrate the qualitative and quantitative: Mix DEIAB survey content within existing employee experience surveys focus groups, interviews, networks, and human resources data with employee demographic data to detect disparities in employee experience. Not just “what” inequities exist, but also “why” and “how” qualitative data can help. By finding organizational disparities in something less personal than an individual or group, such as a method, policy, or set of norms, leaders may empower the workforce to work collectively to solve a system instead of criticizing a single person. 

Considering employee experience and employee engagement. Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives will move beyond employing diverse people. Organizations can help diverse talent integrate into your organization and succeed. Larger clients may face institutional or bureaucratic hurdles when trying to onboard and develop diverse personnel. People are hardwired to connect and need to feel psychologically safe, that they and their work matter, and that they belong to the team, not simply assigned to a workgroup. Therefore, hiring a person who can focus broadly on employee experience and engagement for all employees is an example of embedding DEIAB initiatives into everything that your organization does.

LGBTQIA2S+ awareness progress: There is still a long way to go before trans persons are fully accepted in the workplace. Organizations can help trans employees by providing gender-neutral restrooms and changing rooms, using inclusive language in job ads and employee communications, and training all staff on trans inclusion. 

Companies often neglect the necessity for robust rules and procedures to support transitioning personnel. That involves providing accurate pronouns and titles, gender-neutral uniforms, and transition-related health care. 

Transgender identities are diverse and rapidly evolving. It is crucial to know the latest terminology and be sensitive to transgender experiences in the workplace. 

Recognizing the next generation in the workspace: As younger people join the workforce and middle-aged people move up to senior positions, they will bring with them new values, standards, and expectations for employment and employee experience. That will lead to workplace cultures that are more open to differences and understanding of people’s needs for flexibility at work. Employers and managers will have to work hard over the next year to find a good balance between the need for flexibility and the need for accountability.

Spokane is diverse in a lot of ways, not just in terms of race and ethnicity. As Spokane gets more diverse, so will its range of ideas. We can expect a change in the way people act in the city and at work. 


Kitara Johnson-Jones is the chief human resources officer at Excelsior Wellness.

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