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Dr. Tee Williams

Dr. Tee Williams

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Addressing Diversity in Your Business

By Dr. Tee Williams


Diversity and inclusion is a topic that appears in our nation’s headlines daily. More and more individuals, governments, and business are becoming aware of the value and benefits that come with having a diverse workforce and creating diverse and inclusive organizations. Awareness of the value of diversity does not always translate into successfully building diverse organizations, however. Many of the headlines that we see daily are highlighting how different businesses have failed, in practice, to be inclusive.  

Change is hard. No one is going to do the work of diversity and inclusion perfectly. We should expect some mistakes as we progress. The more that we can learn from one another’s mistakes, the more quickly we can all develop and begin to create the work environments we all deserve.  

Here are five mistakes you should avoid when addressing diversity and Inclusion in your business:

  1. Neglecting to Get Everyone on Board

Becoming diverse and inclusive often requires a significant shift within an organization. In order to do it successfully, there must be a team effort. Sometimes when we realize the importance of diversity and inclusion, it is tempting to assume that everyone else in your organization will automatically be on board once they too realize its importance. That is not a safe assumption.

To avoid this mistake, you will need to make an intentional effort to define your vision for diversity and inclusion, communicate it clearly and bring everyone on board. This means the people in your business must be fully aware of your vision, understand it, believe in it and actively participate and support it.

This may not always be easy – there are a number of challenges you’ll likely face including apathy, implicit bias, resistance, differing sets of beliefs and sometimes outright hostility.  Despite these things, you must stay the course – research on diversity overwhelmingly tells us that it significantly improves business success in a variety of ways. It won’t always be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.

  1. Looking for Short Cuts

Whether you’re just starting or well underway, addressing issues of diversity can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. There is a lot to learn. Attempting to find a shortcut seems like a reasonable response. However, that approach can end in absolute disaster.

Issues of diversity come with a large degree of complexity and nuance. They also need to be addressed at the individual and organizational levels simultaneously. It takes skill. It takes time. It takes planning. It takes sustained engagement. It takes practice.

There are some things that you should never cut corners on and diversity and inclusion is one of them. There is no substitute for doing the work. To avoid this mistake, begin with embracing the idea that becoming a diverse and inclusive organization is a marathon, not a sprint. Approach this work from a place of excellence. This means making it a point to be well informed, seeking help when needed, enacting best practices and committing to doing the work well, rather than seeking to do it quickly.


  1. Doing Too Much at Once

Once business owners become aware of the importance of diversity, both for themselves and for their businesses, they often develop a sense of urgency. This leads to a fairly common problem – attempting to do too much at once.  

The tendency with this mistake is to have more diversity and inclusion change efforts running than an organization can comfortably sustain and support. This can lead to both ineffectiveness in your diversity efforts and disruption of your business.

To avoid this mistake, don’t commit or plan more than your organization can handle at once. While it’s a good thing to be proactive in this area, you must have a balanced approach. Start slowly, with one or two diversity initiatives. Focus on helping your organization build capacity for this work and on preparing them for change. Take your time and lay a solid foundation for your diversity and inclusion work. Once this foundation is in place, it will be easier, and more productive to pick up the pace.


  1. Failing to Make Diversity a Business Imperative

Businesses that are new to diversity and inclusion are sometimes unaware of its full potential. They are particularly at a loss when it comes to the development and implementation of D&I strategy. This lack of clarity can lead to business leaders neglecting to fully embrace the power of diversity – it becomes a box to check rather than a business imperative.

The research on diversity and inclusion is clear: Companies that make diversity a priority and fully integrate it into their business and strategy perform better than those that don’t. By not making diversity one of your business imperatives, you are leaving one of your most powerful advantages to gather dust.

To avoid this mistake, your leadership team must first begin by developing a full and thorough understanding of diversity and inclusion. Doing this will give you the insight necessary to then review your business and strategies to see where and how diversity and inclusion can be integrated.  

  1. Not Owning Your Mistakes

One of the biggest errors any business can make with regards to diversity is failing to own its mistakes. Doing this can cause deep, long-lasting, and sometimes irreparable harm.

No matter how much training and preparation you have, you’re going to make mistakes. It is an inherent part of life and doing business. When you’re new to diversity and social justice, there is a lot to learn.  This means there is also lots of room to make mistakes. Even when you’re experienced with issues of diversity, you’re still going to make mistakes.

This idea can be frightening; no one likes making mistakes, particularly when they have to do with issues of diversity. The fear of making mistakes can sometimes lead to paralysis and inaction. We become so afraid of making mistakes that we fail to act, creating an additional set of problems that must be addressed.

When your company makes mistakes regarding issues of diversity and social justice, its best to own them straight away. Resist the urges to become defensive and talk about your intent. Instead, actively listen to the feedback you’re being offered. Do your best to discern what the nature of your mistake was. Once you have learned this, own your mistake. Offer a sincere apology that includes acknowledgment of the mistake, a statement of regret and a commitment to do better. Most importantly, follow through on your commitment to improve. It’s the only way you will earn back the trust of the people you’ve offended. 

Doing the work of diversity and inclusion will always be challenging because humans are complex. When we enter work spaces, that complexity comes with us. Creating diverse and inclusive organizations will not only bring improvement and success to your business, but it will also allow everyone to bring their fullest selves to work and feel heard, seen, embraced and respected.

Dr. Tee is a social  justice consultant, speaker, and writer residing in Los Angeles, California.  His passion is helping leaders and organizations transform themselves so that together we can collectively transform the world. He loves Pitbulls and Sci-Fi and testing new recipes in the kitchen – but he hates doing dishes. You can see what Dr. Tee is up to at www.imdrtee.com. You can also find him on both Facebook and Instagram at @imdrtee. 


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