Add Diversity And Stir:

A Recipe For Failure

Diversity and Representation Matter. Period.

It goes without saying that people and workplaces benefit from diversity. Diverse perspectives, diverse backgrounds, diverse needs, and diverse opinions make us better. They allow us to innovate, they help us understand our customers, and they push us to be better employees and better people. Their value and importance are well understood and undeniable.

However, how to create a workplace and culture that supports diversity is far less understood, and unfortunately far less common than it should be.

One of the common mistakes that hold diversity efforts back is what experts call the “Add Diversity and Stir” approach.

What do I mean by “Add Diversity, and Stir”?

Well, it’s the process of increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented people in your workforce and assuming that merely their presence will automatically produce benefits and achieve  your goals.

Check out our video on “Add Diversity and Stir” on our YouTube Channel.

What’s Wrong With “Add Diversity and Stir”?

According to a 2020 Harvard Business Review article:

“Increasing the numbers of traditionally underrepresented people in your workforce does not automatically produce benefits. Taking an “add diversity and stir” approach, while business continues as usual, will not spur leaps in your firm’s effectiveness or financial performance.”

“Increasing diversity does not, by itself, increase effectiveness; what matters is how an organization harnesses diversity, and whether it’s willing to reshape its power structure.”

Diversity has major benefits, but it also creates complex challenges. According to a 2021 TechCrunch article:

“The problem is that business leaders and diversity advocates have failed to consider an approach to diversity that goes beyond “add diversity and stir.” Diversity is not a numbers game wherein the solution is to merely increase the numbers of traditionally underrepresented groups in your workforce.”

Many workplaces do not embrace the complexity of diversity. They think of it sort of like a tech upgrade, a “plug and play” solution. But making diversity work is about giving people what they need to be successful. Just putting people into jobs, stirring in some unbiased training, and patting yourself on the back is not only insulting to underrepresented groups but often creates friction with existing staff. If not handled carefully, DEI can be seen as a “Zero-Sum game”. Where if you give something to someone you have to take it away from someone else. This mistaken mentality will make the adoption of any DEI effort doomed to fail.

Where “Add Diversity and Stir” falls apart is well expressed in a 2021 article by Gabriela Mueller; she states that “add diversity and stir” doesn’t create any change because it over looks the most important part; Inclusion.

“I submit that Inclusion goes first, then real Diversity will follow. Not the opposite.“Diversity” and “inclusion” are so often lumped together that they are assumed to be the same thing. But that’s just not the case. In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, diversity does not stick.”

It is clear that as important as diversity is, without inclusion it is doomed to fail. In fact, without inclusion existing first, diversity will never be truly successful.

Start With Inclusion

Inclusion is where all DEI, DEIB, D&I, and every other variation of the term needs to begin. Inclusion needs to be about everyone, ensuring that everyone feels like they belong. If we do not want DEI to be a Zero-Sum game, we need to make sure everyone feels connected, respected, accepted, and that they belong. Then changes and accommodations are not seen as “special treatment” or “overcorrections”. If the normal practice is seeing all employees as individuals, respecting and valuing their difference, then existing staff will not feel threatened when the company supports new employees.

As we say on the East Coast, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. When we avoid “Add Diversity and Stir” and shift to creating respect and belonging, then we can leverage the benefits of diversity and create the actual change we are seeking.

The expectations of the workplace culture matters

When an organization is creating commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, it is important that they have a clear and intentional understanding of what that means for their company and its employees. Even the most well-intentioned organization can be guilty of band-aid solutions that will make no real difference because they misunderstand what true inclusion looks like. By realizing that DEI is a renovation, we need to be willing to tear down the broken parts of our culture and invest in making the remodel work the best it can. Otherwise, we risk slapping on a new coat of paint that won’t take, and before long, we are back where we started.

By W. Coby Milne

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