The five cultural norms stalling your D&I progress

Bethaney Wilkinson, Founder, The Diversity Gap explains what's likely stalling the progress of your diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives

Recruiting and hiring diverse talent isn’t the real problem you’re facing. Yes, it might be the presenting issue. But it’s not the real issue. It’s not the root of the matter. If you’re struggling to find, hire, and retain diverse talent, you’re dealing with a culture issue that is stalling your D&I progress.

Yep, it’s your culture. The values you embody, the stories you tell, the heroes you celebrate, and the behaviours you tolerate. Baked within these norms are perspectives and habits that can either propel your diversity and inclusion work forward or can stall your work completely.

This can be a difficult adjustment to make-shifting from a focus on diverse talent acquisition to focusing on the metaphorical soil of your organisational life. But these are changes you can make today. And if you make them, you’ll save yourself countless hours, dollars, and emotional turmoil for years to come.

With this possibility in mind, let’s unpack five cultural values that might be stalling your D&I progress.

D&I progress: secrecy

Behind the closed office doors of decision makers is where diversity and inclusion go to die. If your organisation’s culture is marked by decisions made behind the scenes, without the input of those most impacted by those decisions, you’ll have a tough time building the trust required to shift your organisational culture. You dignify your team members and respect their personhood when we find ways to proactively involve them in the decisions you make. And not just decisions related to D&I, but decisions related to culture, marketing, compensation, and more. Reducing secrecy, and increasing transparency, not only empowers others, but it gives folks confidence in you as a leader. They know you have their best interests in heart and mind, and that you trust them to bring their best to your organisation when given the chance to do so. 


When you don’t trust your team, they know it. This goes for everyone, but it’s especially true for your Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) team members. Be it through micro-management, overemphasising facetime (in the office or virtually) or by consistently undermining their leadership style, people know when you are suspicious of them. The suspicion we feel about other people is often informed by our past experiences with those specific individuals, or with individuals who share their characteristics. Either way, it’s up to you to get clear on why you feel distrusting of those who work with you or for you. Again, if you can’t build and sustain trust, you’ll be hard-pressed to create a culture where diversity of identities, perspectives, and workplace gifting can thrive. 

Is silence stalling your D&I progress?

You’ve probably heard it said, “silence is violence.” When you remain silent about the broader cultural issues affecting people in your organisation, it creates a void. And people fill the void with their own stories based on their experiences. In order to minimise the assumptions, people will make, speak up when things are happening in the world. Despite what you might think, it’s better to say something imperfectly than to say nothing at all. Silence about the issues affecting people and their communities leads to employee disengagement. It may seem like a tall order, but your team needs to know you see them and that you care about the realities affecting their lives beyond 9-5. 


D&I progress is hampered in organisational silos. When the work is delegated to one department, or to an internal committee of passionate entry level employees who don’t have tremendous decision-making power, the likelihood of organisational cultural change is dramatically reduced. What is needed is a thoughtful, long-term plan that is integrated with your organisation’s core functions. This strategic plan will look different in every organisation because your people, your places, and your spheres of influence are different. But by prioritising this cross-functional, integrated effort, you’ll be able to make progress over the long haul. 

Simplistic thinking

While simplistic thinking feels good on the surface, truly good impact requires nuance and complexity. Yall–if I could make this work easy, I would. If I could wave a magic wand and see centuries-old oppressive systems disappear, I would do it! But as we all know, it doesn’t work that way. If you find yourself getting burned out on the layers of nuance and complexity that true D&I progress requires of us, then you’re on the right track. My dad has always said, “Many hands make light work.” The sorts of cultural changes we’re after are heavy, but the work is lightened when we do it together. Don’t short change yourself, or your organisation, by settling for simplistic thinking. When you get overwhelmed, take a break, remember why this work matters, and link arms with others who are on the journey.

You can hear more from Bethaney Wilkinson, Founder, The Diversity Gap, at the Women in IT Virtual Summit on October 13 2021. You can view the agenda and register your free place here

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