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What’s Your Why Not (2 of 4) | Checking a Box Won’t Change a Culture

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had a question mark in my mind that was fuzzy and not fully developed into a complete image. While in the process of preparing for my first, of what I hope to be many, Circle of Belonging dinners with C-suite leaders, I keep thinking of Simon Sinek’s challenge for us to be clear about the all-important WHY for any endeavor.

Specific to Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, there is no shortage of data about why it’s important for informing employee experiences, igniting employee engagement, improving workforce sustainability, and impacting the bottom line.

However, those why’s don’t seem to be enough to move the needle in a meaningful way that is sustainable. As a matter of fact, there is a phenomenon called “Diversity washing” that people are taking note of.

Diversity washing refers to the practice of companies or organizations making cosmetic changes or superficial efforts to appear diverse, inclusive, or socially responsible, without actually making meaningful changes to their policies, practices, or culture. Diversity washing is often used as a marketing or public relations strategy, but it doesn't result in real sustainable diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace.

In 2020, Forbes ran an article that talked about how the biases against real sustainable change run deep in organizations and among both leaders and employees. Vern Howard noted that while it is “easy to hire a VP of diversity to run feel-good initiatives” or put more faces of color in marketing materials, its MUCH harder to truly engage in transparent decision-making, take ownership of faults and problems in themselves and the organization and truly change policies and practices that perpetuate unfair treatment of people. He states that until the underlying structures that perpetuate these behaviors are broken apart, no real change can happen.

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