With all the talk about DEI’s competitive advantage, why isn’t it a business priority?

'Leaders need to start hiring for their weaknesses'

With all the talk about DEI’s competitive advantage, why isn’t it a business priority?

Citing LinkedIn statistics, Luli Adeyemo, executive director for the TechDiversity Foundation (TDF), said there had been a 71% increase in hires around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the last five years.

However, “what we’re now finding is that a lot of those roles are left within two to three years because they’re not supported and it’s too much of a challenge.”

In a webinar hosted by the TDF, Adeyemo asks the question: “If there’s all this conversation around DEI and the competitive advantage it may give you and how it leads to innovation… why isn’t it a business priority?”

The benefits of DEI

Warren Anderson, group vice president at Gartner, said, “If you’re a DEI leader, it’s about how do we educate the organisation internally to see the opportunity. There has been such a big focus on the social aspects of DEI, and that’s really critical, but I don’t think organisations understand the benefits of it from a performance and outcome standpoint.”

Anderson believes that DEI is not just a strategy for resilience in challenging times, it’s a strategy for high performance and it 100% lends itself to competitive advantage.

“Whether you’re going through good or bad times,” he said, “the most successful organisations play on the strengths of individuals, and they bring different people together to form incredible groups with incredible outcomes.”

Anderson explained that achieving those incredible outcomes begins with getting buy-in from your leadership team, then educating them to the outcomes and developing an environment where they are building teams, not just hiring people that are the same as them.

“Leaders need to start hiring for their weaknesses,” he said. “That’s what organisations who are really trying to get to that high performance through diversity struggle with: ‘How do I hire people that are different to me, and not just based on the colour of their skin or what country they’re born in? I need to find a high-performing team that can fill those gaps.’” 

Recently, a special report published by HRD in partnership with Culture Amp assessed the effectiveness of global DEI initiatives.

Meritocracy doesn’t work for everyone

Lyndele von Schill works towards removing barriers for marginalised youth in America. She’s the human rights commissioner in Charlottesville, Virginia, and director of DE&I at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory where they began their DEI program 10 years ago. She says the problems often lie with unseen, systemic barriers.

For example, the idea of meritocracy that is so engrained in our workforce – the harder you work the more successful you are – simply doesn’t work for everyone. “There’s a blindness for many people to the reality of the inaccessibility of that to a large number of people,” said Schill.

Both Anderson and Schill agree that university degrees play a big part in stemming DEI efforts. Schill cites that in 2021 in the US, 577 white students received PhDs alongside just 14 black students.

“Ten years ago, tech companies were saying if you don’t have a degree, don’t apply. Well, that cuts out a lot of people that can’t afford to go to go to university, but they might have the traits you want, and you might be able to develop those skills internally,” said Anderson.

“Imagine if we could go into our Indigenous communities, or poor areas, or schools.”

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