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The Pros and Cons of (many?) DEI approaches

In my last post, I broached the possibilities and benefits of embedding intercultural fluency into an organization’s DEI strategy.

Before I go further, I want to specify some of my observations on some salient pros and cons of DEI (or EDI) approaches that I feel are on the right track. Of course, every organization has published their DEI strategy/mission/commitment/plan (or has been spending the last year assembling one). While, if done well, these approaches are customized to the specific imperatives and goals of the organization, they are some similarities that I’d like to distill of (1) what tends to be done well in DEI strategies and plans and (2) what remains missing.

So, here goes:


1. Creating organizationally-responsive measures regarding recruitment, retention and promotion

Organizations often recognize that to better embed and foster diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, they need to examine and change their existing recruitment, retention and promotion strategies. This often means specific plans to both celebrate and foster continued diversity in their talent management practices, devising specific plans to address the historical and contemporary gaps in recruiting, retaining and promoting under-represented groups and then identifying tactics to support inclusion and belonging of their entire workforce.

2. Defining a baseline to then devise and implement organizationally-relevant targeted metrics and programs

Organizations that want to go beyond the performative gesture of embracing DEI will devise and implement organizationally-relevant targeted metrics. These metrics may seem random; but generally, they are data-driven, based on the organization’s own census around the number of under-represented, equity-deserving groups, generally understood around various social identity axes, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, as well as other dimensions that might be locally, nationally or organizationally relevant. A census will allow the organization to establish a baseline to then define a target which is deemed desirable to reach. These could relate to recruitment and retention in various occupational levels and/or the creation of specific programs to enhance the employment and advancement of certain, equity-deserving groups.

3. Focus on measurable outcomes to enhance transparency and accountability

Following from (1) and (2) above, the DEI plans focus on measurable outcomes, which, of course, can allow leaders, managements, and workers to track progress. Furthermore, these outcomes can be published in annual reports that enhance the organization’s transparency and accountability and allow revisions and enhancements to various policies, such as scaling a pilot project to address equity gaps in leadership development and expand it to reach more equity-deserving workers.

While these (and other) dimensions support the significance of DEI strategic approaches, there are some cons.


1. Lack of strategy regarding conflict

It’s important to remember that organizations did not just one day ‘wake up’ and embrace DEI initiatives; rather these initiatives were born out of conflict, whether social, political, cultural and economic that are ongoing in society and the specific conflicts in workplaces with a culture of harassment and systemic discrimination and inequities. As such, awareness of people’s conflict styles, and how differing cultural worldviews support different conflict communication, is highly salient. Sadly, the attention to differing conflict styles is missing in most organizational DEI strategies.

2. The courage to foster difficult conversations

While measurable outcomes and targeted policies are very important, DEI strategies often don’t seem to embed strategies to engender difficult conversations around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Most organizations are unequal, hierarchical sites of various levels of engagement (and lack thereof). A top-down, imposed strategy may lead to more discord and dissent, and it may lead to people to decide that “DEI” is something “being done” to them rather than involving them. To foster organizational inclusion and belonging, an organization has to summon the courage to foster difficult conversations amongst its people across its functional units and up and down its hierarchies.

3. Respect for people’s “face needs”

Face needs include our needs to be respected, to be seen as trustworthy, to receive approval and be liked by others. We also have needs for autonomy, independence, and privacy. Face needs vary by cultural worldviews and communication styles, dynamics of verbal and nonverbal communication and feature highly in conflict situations and all kinds of conversation. Too often, DEI advisors assume people just to support the strategy; DEI becomes compliance (and so does its training). Yet, such training rarely sticks. More productive in embracing a range of diversity (of thought and experience) and nourish more meaningful inclusion is showing respect for people’s various face needs and embedding that in your DEI strategic plan.

Some of these ‘cons’ are the ‘pros’ of an approach that builds intercultural competence! To learn more, stay tuned for the next blog post!

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