January 26, 2024

Why Does DEI Fail? Failure to Define Desired Outcomes

By: Center For Accounting Transformation / podcast

An international executive coach says DEI is critical for sustainability in all businesses across all industries. 

In the latest episode of Transformation Talks, Scharrell Jackson, an international speaker, leadership coach, and business consultant, discussed the undeniable benefits of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in business culture, recruiting, and, especially, the bottom line. However, Jackson notes one main reason so many organizations fail at implementing DEI initiatives is tied directly to defining what success looks like for them. 

“One of the primary reasons why organizations are seeing DEI failure is that they are not really identifying the actual outcomes that they want tied to the business success,” Jackson explained. “In other words, it’s really not about let’s increase the women or underrepresented pool of people by a certain percentage. But what is it that we actually want to accomplish by doing this? I think there’s a lack of clarity in the why versus making a decision to do something because we believe is what we have to do.” 

She continued, “We need to first understand why we’re doing it, and we need to commit to it and be clear on the outcomes we want. We need to make sure that we have proper leadership when we’re talking about transformation, where there’s accountability, and that there’s training and development before execution of initiatives.” 

Drawing from her extensive background as a partner, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer in the accounting industry, she discusses her experiences and observations.  

“When you start to embrace DEI, you first have to understand that it is not about black versus white, gay versus straight, or male versus female. It’s about leading with the diversity of thought, and when we start to lead with diversity of thought that means that we want to make sure that as organizational leaders, we have proper representation, not just at the leadership level but at all of the levels throughout our organizations that can look out for our blind spots,” Jackson said. “The better and more representation that we have across a myriad of sectors of individuals in our nation, we also have the ability to attract and retain talent, which positions us to be able to service a broader community of clients because clients tend to like to work with and for people who look and operate like them.”  

“The business case for DEI is that it positively impacts your ability to grow, your ability to attract and retain talent, and your ability to have individuals who look out for your blind spots, and close some of the business and process gaps that you may have within your organization.” 

Key Takeaways: 

  • A key outcome of DEI is diversity of thought (not just diversity to check the box on racial inclusion) 
  • Firms must establish a business case for DEI that is tied to the firm’s actual business strategy. This is often tied to growth in different client bases and improving retention and recruitment. 
  • DEI initiatives must be governed like many other transformation initiatives: have executive support, understand how success will be measured, and have a project plan that addresses implementation and ongoing maintenance. 
  • When embracing DEI, firms often transform their culture to create more belonging in their organization. 
  • A key element of DEI is training. Training must be done at all levels of the firm and especially upper management must understand how their actions and decisions impact firm culture. 
  • There is a key difference between “inclusion” and “belonging.” Inclusion means you’ve been invited to a party. Belonging means you’ve also been asked to dance. 
  • DEI (and Belonging, if we want to add this as a key benefit of DEI) is crucial to a positive business culture and to recruiting. New recruits aren’t just asking for it. They are demanding it.

Check out Transformation Talks with Scharrell Jackson on the Center’s YouTube channel.

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