Our DEI Policy Is In Place! How Is It the Hard Work is Just Beginning?

It is well known that having a Diversity-Equity-Inclusion policy in place does not necessarily mean that an organization is achieving any of its DEI goals and sometimes the situation gets worse. Why is this? Because having a policy does not automatically equate to increased diversity and, even more important, a workplace that feels welcoming and inclusive. This requires a worldview shift, worldview alignments across the organization and additional supporting structures and practices. Most policies stop short of this key foundational requirement.

Systems Thinking – Iceberg

When you see an iceberg, as magnificent as it is, you are only seeing the tip of it. The bulk of it is below the waterline. Responding only to what is visible – “the event” or challenge – means solutions have a high chance of failure. A lack of diversity in the organization, particularly the higher up you go, and HR complaints about exclusion, lack of promotion opportunity or overt racism may be events or challenges that point to the need for a DEI policy. If the intervention is only targeted at changing the demographic numbers, it may miss its greatest opportunities for leverage.

Events are influenced and shaped by patterns and trends. Demographic shifts occurring in society are changing the nature of the current and future workforce impacting recruitment and retention strategies and, increasingly, a business case is being made for why DEI policies and programs are a sound investment and possibly a competitive advantage.

Getting to policy development is not an easy or quick task which is why creating a good policy is an achievement. While policy is a structure that influences behaviour, in and of itself, it is not enough. It stops short of understanding the mental models that contribute to the current organizational culture and it stops short of understanding what it takes to support successful implementation of new policies or structures intended to shift the culture of the organization.

Unintended Consequences

A DEI policy can lead to worldview challenges and clashes that, unresolved, can activate passive and active resistance. There may be no “safe enough” places in the organization to have conversations about the challenges that arise in implementation and especially conversations that get to the heart of individual and collective responses to real and perceived tectonic shifts in “the way things have always been”. These elements of organizational culture are implicitly and explicitly understood by everyone who works in the organization and changes can challenge the known “world order”, including individual and collective sense of identity.

Because these kinds of conversations are either avoided, superficial or undervalued, there may not be enough people in the organization skilled in creating those opportunities, where people can acknowledge that they can have the conversation but may see the world differently and then be able to talk about what that means as it relates to workplace culture. When making a policy change it is important to identify and include any other structures or practices that need to shift or be implemented and any new skills needed to support the success and longevity of the new policy.

Worldview Intelligence Is A Game Changer

WVI provides a structured approach, language, skills and strategies to examine the mental models or existing organizational, team and individual worldviews and it opens the space for the conversations and practices needed to support policy changes, especially when they are significant. It asks better, more provocative questions and the Six Dimensions Worldview Intelligence Framework illuminates where sources of tension, worldview challenges and resistance might come from. It also provides a planning structure with its Theory of Change Model that allows for a thoughtful, strategic, systemic approach to implementing policy.

The Worldview Intelligence approach works from the foundation up, asking different questions at each stage. With WVI you can recognize when the conversation is a worldview conversation so you can adapt your stance and your receptivity to open exploratory conversations rather than become defensive. It enables you to not be offended when your views are challenged, particularly when you believe the initiatives implemented are progressive and others think it is only a starting point. It provides you with the skills to listen beyond the volume or the noise to what is really being said or asked. It helps you discover a path to the future that allows for going back to the organization’s collective history as well as forward to the preferred future, recognizing these points meet right now, in the reality of the present moment. It enables you to hold different and opposite views at the same time, to acknowledge their existence and to create opportunities to build strength from difference, to truly turn diversity and inclusion into a competitive advantage.

Policies don’t always work the way they are intended because the heart of this work is not in rigid enforcement as much as it is in the hard conversations that align worldviews, generate greater understanding and create a culture of belonging that is measurably inclusive.