Ten Common Myths About Diversity and Inclusion
As you work to make your company more diverse, equitable and inclusive, you’re going to hear a lot of statements that just aren’t true. Those who make these statements are usually well–meaning but ill–informed. Sometimes, however, they’re deliberately trying to sabotage your work. In either case, you have an opportunity to correct the record. Here, I debunk ten common myths about diversity and inclusion. Feel free to use these responses to educate others about diversity, equity and inclusion.
- When we check this box, we can move on to other priorities.
Diversity, equity and inclusion work is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not about “checking a box” or completing a discrete series of tasks and calling it a day. It’s not about hiring just enough folks who are considered “minorities” or putting the company through a single DEI training course and expecting the culture to change. DEI is about recognizing that talent comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, cultures, personalities and the like. It’s a change management process that requires time, effort, resources, support and every staff person’s commitment to fostering a culture where everyone is treated with respect, valued for their contributions, set up for success and able to grow and thrive in their careers.
- Isn’t focusing on diversity just reverse discrimination?
I like to think about DEI efforts as a pie that represents opportunities. There’s enough for everyone, and as companies open new seats and expand the table the pie gets bigger and is enough for everyone to get a slice. Focusing on diversity is necessary because many countries have laws against discriminating against a person based on their age, race, gender, religion and so on. Underrepresented (diverse) talent brings all kinds of skills, experiences, ideas and solutions that can benefit the company.
DEI means ensuring that those who’ve been historically marginalized or deprived of equal opportunities simply because of their identities should be given a fair and equitable chance to succeed. It does also mean looking within your organization’s demographics and identifying where you have gaps – who you keep hiring and why, but more importantly, who you’ve consistently left out. In those cases, yes you may need to target historically marginalized groups through programs and processes designed to create a level playing field and to ensure that they too can access career opportunities in your organization. That doesn’t mean you’re discriminating against historically dominant groups.
- DEI work has no place for straight, white men.
The goal of DEI is to create teams, companies and systems that work for everyone and that allow access to seats at the table where all voices can be heard. Of course, straight, white men have a place in this work. That many may feel this way is understandable because they’ve been in positions of power and privilege for centuries, and this work means sharing some of that.
I’ve found that straight, white men can make tremendous allies, great mentors and effective spokespeople. Other times, I’ve found that they can be the biggest resisters.
And if the resistance is happening inside the room, it’s surely happening outside the room as well. Those who are allies, champions and advocates can play a tremendous role in influencing the rest of their colleagues to be a part of the solution and not the problem and to recognize that DEI work is about everyone.
- “Diversity” is just code for “race.”
Diversity means all the ways individuals and groups differ from one another. It’s a broad definition – so broad that it’s hard to tackle all at once. Consequently, your work naturally addresses the needs of specific marginalized groups who have been/are impacted the most, and one of those groups will almost always be people of color.
However, I believe that DEI can take a “both–and” approach, meaning that as you address the ills and inequities experienced by people of color, you shouldn’t ignore the needs of people with disabilities, people from the LBGTQ community, women, veterans or other historically marginalized groups within your organization that can benefit from DEI work.
- What we’re really after is diversity of thought.
Sometimes, to allay the fears of historically privileged people within an organization, DEI programs are presented as a search for diversity of thought rather than diversity of identity. Of course, if your organization was built so that only extroverts (for example) can get ahead, then solutions that give introverts access to success need to be created.
But always, diversity of identity means diversity of experience. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities have different life experiences and different worldviews that may differ from those of the dominant group.
You can’t have true diversity of thought unless you have people who look, believe, think, communicate and see the world differently.
- I support diversity; I just don’t want to lower our standards.
Focusing on diversity doesn’t mean lowering standards or selecting a less qualified person (which is what those who resist DEI efforts often assume). Sadly, many people who’ve uttered this statement or something like it think they’ve just said something sensible and wise. But think about it for just a moment. At the heart of this sentence is the belief that straight, able–bodied white men are naturally smarter, more talented, more educated and more capable of achieving results than anyone else. This belief indicates that as soon as you hire or promote someone outside this group, you run a significant risk of diminishing your team’s intellect, talent, knowledge and competence.
There’s no room for this kind of thinking in the workplace or in society.
- If we can achieve diversity, inclusion will follow.
You can have diversity and not have inclusion. And that’s where too many organizations find themselves today. They’ve sought to achieve diversity goals by hiring a few underrepresented people and think that they can now expect to see inclusion. Not so.
The reason companies a century ago were so homogeneous is the same reason many people’s social circles today aren’t nearly as diverse as their workplaces. Homogeneity is closely linked with comfort. People who resemble each other – who are more alike than different – tend to get along. They naturally understand each other and can speak in shorthand and shared cultural references.
At work, of course, this uniformity is also linked with stagnation, groupthink and the status quo. Organizations that want to thrive in an increasingly competitive, complex and global landscape need to diversify. But more importantly, they need to cultivate a culture that requires all workers to respect and value differences, create a sense of inclusion and belonging, and ensure that all talent has equity and access to opportunities. Companies that do so run the risk of losing great talent, great ideas, great customers and a lot of money.
- All bias is bad.
A bias is just a decision you make, and not all decisions are bad. Bias is a natural human state. If you have a working human brain, you have the ability to make incredibly quick decisions based on patterns from your past and your current emotional state. You need to protect you from harm and stay safe, healthy and alive.
But sometimes bias can result in the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. Therefore, examining important decisions for signs of bias is important. That examination doesn’t necessarily mean that your gut responses are unfair or incorrect, only that you acknowledge the potential is there.
- Succeeding as a DEI practitioner will put me out of a job.
When the DEI industry was young, this sentiment was popular among practitioners. The idea that we could build cultures so sustainable that our work would no longer be needed was aspirational at best.
Think about it: When a company has achieved consistent revenue growth and experienced long–term success, does the chief financial officer quit? When a company goes a few years with no safety incidents, does the head of safety step down? No.
Likewise, today DEI work clearly can no longer have a timetable on it, no matter how much success the company has achieved in attracting, engaging and retaining talent. Over time, evidence has proven the opposite; when you stop focusing on these important topics, you begin to move backward. This work is here to stay.
- Is all this DEI work really necessary when people seem so happy here?
If you haven’t made a real effort to create a positive and inclusive workplace culture, your people likely aren’t as happy as you think. When a powerful person is happy, they can easily believe that everyone is equally happy. And when those with less power have good reason to keep their less–than–happy experience a secret, the illusion of universal happiness is even stronger.
Sometimes, when a DEI practitioner uncovers some pain in the organization, they’re told that their work is “divisive” and just making everything worse. But the practitioner didn’t create that pain; it was always there.
Reprinted with permission from: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Dummies by Dr. Shirley Davis, Global workforce expert and DEI thought leader. Copyright © 2022 John Wiley & Sons., Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey