Tag Archive for: organizational culture

You have likely heard many arguments about the value that diversity can bring to a workplace. Over the past several decades, businesses have invested meaningfully in implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) programs that focus on diversity in their organizations. In fact, almost 98% of U.S. companies had some sort of DE&I program as of 2019.

However, if you ask those “diverse hires” about their company’s DE&I programs, only about a quarter of that diverse talent feels tangible benefits from those programs. Moreover, research suggests that most DE&I programs that focus on diversity do not meaningfully increase diversity in the long-term.

Why is that? Why do so many DE&I programs fall short or outright fail in achieving their stated objectives?

In pondering this question, I found myself recalling a dinner conversation with a group of software engineer friends a few years ago.

The night was brimming with good food and laughter, until I – the only non-engineer at the table – joked about my regret in moving away from my undergrad major (which was related to computer science) and therefore from a lucrative career path. One of them responded enthusiastically, “It’s not too late! You’ve learned coding, and it’s gonna be a lot easier for you to get hired by (his tech giant employer) – you know, “woman” check, “Asian” check.”

I quickly lost my appetite.

I don’t blame my friend. What he said was neither malicious nor, unfortunately, false. But his comment made me realize some of the ways organizations’ diversity-focused DE&I programs have fallen short. These programs can, unintentionally, reinforce some of the very biases and prejudices they are designed to reduce. These programs can deepen silos and divisions rather than build bridges and foster greater understanding. And these programs can fail in enabling organizations to tap into the real potential of diversity in the workplace.

This incident, and the years of research that followed, also revealed to me the root of these DE&I program pitfalls – leaders and organizations of these failed programs engaged in their DE&I initiatives with either a flawed mindset or a flawed approach.

The Flawed Mindset: DE&I as A Problem to Be Solved

Modern DE&I in the United States originated as a response to the civil rights movement in 1960s. Following the enactment of several laws on the local, state, and federal levels to protect the rights of historically marginalized groups, organizations began to invest in diversity programs to ensure compliance and to reduce or prevent discrimination lawsuits.

In the decades that followed, civil rights movements have advanced and societal expectations have shifted. However, the motivation for organizations to engage in DE&I work has not evolved with the times. Many businesses remain primarily motivated by public pressure or legal risk when it comes to their DE&I work. As a result, many leaders and organizations still regard DE&I as a problem to be solved, rather than an advantage to be gained.

This mindset rooted in preventing legal liability has tangible consequences on the success of DE&I initiatives. Behavioral science experiments have revealed that when behaviors are driven purely by extrinsic motives, such as legal compliance, that behavior will not last long nor produce the best results. Moreover, when leaders and organizations seem reluctant about or not fully committed to their DE&I efforts, employees and other stakeholders recognize and react to that reluctance. A seeming hesitancy or lack of commitment to DE&I can discourage employees from taking any of their organization’s DE&I efforts seriously.

At its core, DE&I work seeks to create a change in employees, specifically a change in employee behavior. An individual’s behavior is influenced by how the goal of the behavior change is framed or worded. Research has found that when we want to provoke a change in behavior, presenting the goal of that behavior change in a positive frame (i.e., If you do X, you will gain something positive and/or will avoid suffering some negative harm) is more effective than when presented in a negative frame (i.e., If you don’t do X, you will fail to attain a possible gain and/or will possibly suffer some negative harm).

In the case of DE&I work, narratives that center the goal of DE&I work within negative frames, (e.g., If we don’t engage in DE&I work, we could face litigation, criticism, and reputational harm) can be ineffective when it comes to engaging employees in DE&I. Moreover, DE&I work narratives couched in negative frames can actually produce resistance, resentment, and/or blame among stakeholders.

In many ways what has been lacking in the flawed mindset around organizational DE&I is a narrative with a positive frame about why DE&I efforts are worth engaging in at all.

The Remedy: DE&I as an Opportunity to Build Competitive Advantage

What is a narrative about organizational DE&I with a positive frame that fosters a more effective mindset?

The answer: Engaging in DE&I work is an opportunity to build competitive advantage for your organization.

Over the past two decades, numerous studies have illustrated the ways DE&I can create a competitive advantage for organizations. For example, organizations that achieve diverse and inclusive workplaces have been found to have stronger:

  • Financial returns,
  • Employee engagement,
  • Talent acquisition and retention, and
  • Brand differentiation.

When DE&I is recognized as an opportunity to build competitive advantage, it becomes much easier to get buy-in across the organization. Moreover, when DE&I is understood within a competitive advantage mindset, it naturally changes how organizations approach DE&I work – moving away from passively preventing legal liability to engaging in the work of achieving the meaningful benefits of DE&I.

Therefore, shifting from a mindset of DE&I as a problem to be solved to a mindset of DE&I as an opportunity to build competitive advantage is the necessary first step to create and execute effective DE&I initiatives.

However, mindset alone is not enough for DE&I initiatives to succeed.

The Flawed Approach: Hire for Diversity and Manage for Assimilation

Another major pitfall for DE&I programs that focus on diversity happens when these programs are designed to achieve primarily numerical workforce goals. When organizations set goals such as “hiring x% of underrepresented groups,” DE&I work ends at the surface level – increased representation and a workforce that looks more diverse.

However, as those organizational hiring targets are met, these new employees’ daily experience in the workplace has just begun.

In the absence of a culture where everyone feels encouraged to speak up and show up authentically as they are, and when managers are not trained in the skills to navigate diverse workforces, employees will be pressured to assimilate to the higher-status or dominant group – in most cases, white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender male.

And the cost of assimilation in the workplace is high.

Assimilation corrodes one’s psychological safety and contributes to employee strain and burnout. As a result, employees who feel pressured to assimilate exhibit lower engagement, lower productivity, and are more likely to leave the company. Additionally, at the organizational level, assimilation naturally leads teams to group think, depriving the organization of the real value that a diversity of thought could bring – innovative ideas, solutions, and strategies that can advance the organization.

Beyond the cost of assimilation, numerical workforce goals that are designed to benefit historically marginalized groups can also end up causing more harm than good. If people have reason to believe that someone was hired or promoted because of some aspect of their identity, people tend to assume that the person must not have been hired or promoted because of their competence. Think back to my dinner table conversation – “woman” check, “Asian” check. This dynamic erodes trust, negatively impacts employee relationships, and could end up becoming a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, there is a different approach to DE&I that more reliably leads to true diversity in the workplace. And the key to this approach is to not focus on diversity.

The Remedy: Aim to Create an Inclusive Culture

Diversity can never realize its potential in a vacuum. When we talk about the ways diversity can enhance employee engagement, innovation, and problem-solving, we often leave out the foundation necessary to realize those benefits of diversity. And that is an inclusive culture – a culture that attracts and retains diverse talent, where everyone feels valued, like they belong, and set up for success.

Without this important foundation, establishing diversity in the workplace can create more harm than good. Simply bringing people of different identities to the table often creates more tension and conflict. However, within an inclusive culture, differences and tension can become opportunities to encourage learning, foster understanding, and strengthen team dynamics. Moreover, an inclusive culture enables organizations to realize the benefits of diversity, and thereby build competitive advantage.

Therefore, the starting place of any DE&I work should be creating an inclusive culture. And that means shifting the focus away from achieving numerical workforce targets to doing the work of eliminating barriers for historically marginalized groups and creating an inclusive environment at work.


With the right mindset and the right approach, organizations can create far more effective DE&I initiatives.

“Our organization wants to celebrate [X] Heritage/History Month, but we are not sure how.”

This has been an increasingly common concern we hear from clients.

Heritage month celebrations in the United States were established by congressional proclamations during the 20th century. Now, they are celebrated throughout the year, commemorating the histories and contributions of historically marginalized communities to this country.

Celebrating heritage months as an organization can be tricky. Leaders are often afraid to come across as inauthentic or opportunistic and worry about causing more harm than good by missing the mark in celebrating these heritage months. As a result, many organizations and leaders, with the best of intentions, end up doing nothing at all.

As with any other form of DE&I work, there are no easy solutions or shortcuts. Successful DE&I initiatives require commitment and hard work. However, when done right, heritage month celebrations can help build trust with those people who matter most to your organization. Moreover, when the recognition and celebration of non-dominant identities becomes a natural part of an organization’s culture, that organization will become more inclusive and employees will become more engaged in their work.

In thinking about celebrating heritage months at your organization, there is a simple, yet powerful mindset that can help leaders and organizations approach this challenge: Meet the expectations of those people who matter most to you.

I will unpack what this means by using this year’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month as an example and offer practical advice for how you can celebrate heritage months the right way in your organization.

Shifting Societal Expectations: A Historical Problem Brought to the Forefront

At Logos Consulting Group, we teach clients that trust is the natural consequence of promises fulfilled, expectations met, and values lived. When it comes any form of DE&I work, having a current, up-to-date understanding of societal expectations is essential in thinking about meeting stakeholder expectations.

For the AAPI community, the rise of anti-Asian hatred since the beginning of Covid-19 has continued into 2022. According to the NYPD Hate Crimes Dashboard, 158 incidents of hate crimes against Asians were reported between March 2020 and December 2021. Hate crimes against Asians increased so much so that the New York Police Department created an Asian Hate Crime Task Force.

However, nothing we are seeing today is new. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have suffered from systemic racism and oppression throughout the history of the United States. People from India were brought into colonial Virginia in the early 1620s as servants and slaves. The 1871 the Chinese Massacre resulted in 10% of Los Angeles’s Chinese American population being killed. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 prohibited all Chinese immigration to the US. The 1924 Immigration Act was an explicit race-based immigration ban against Asians. The Japanese internment between 1942-1946 resulted in 120,000 people of Japanese descent being incarcerated in US concentration camps. And these are just a few examples of this systemic anti-Asian racism and oppression from US history.

What makes matters worse for the AAPI community is the “model minority” myth, a perception of universal acceptance and success of AAPI people who bear few traumatic racial struggles. As a result, their plight is often absent from racial justice discussions, and their suffering and contributions are often missed or glossed over in textbooks.

This systemic racism and erasure have set the tone for the AAPI community in the US for generations. Many Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders have walked around in American society with their heads down, mouths shut, and a persistent sense of otherness and inferiority. The rise of anti-Asian hate has finally, for good or for bad, shed a light on the elephant in the room.

Since the Atlanta shooting in March 2021, we’ve witnessed an outcry against Anti-Asian hate from across the country. For the first time in American history, advocacy for AAPI racial justice has been placed at the forefront of social discourse. Therefore, an expectation has been built in the AAPI community and with their allies – an expectation that their employers, partners, companies, and favorite brands will speak out and stand in solidarity with the AAPI community.

Opportunities and Risks

Given this shift of societal expectations, the 2022 AAPI Heritage Month becomes a critical moment. If organizations fail to meet those new expectations of the AAPI community and its allies, it will lead to a loss of trust among those who matter. However, if organizations succeed in meeting these new societal expectations, the trust and confidence of those who matter most will be maintained or even strengthened.

We can make this argument for all other heritage or history months. In this moment when ideologies in the US have become deeply polarized and when many ethnic cultures have been politicized and weaponized, it takes so much energy for people outside the dominant culture to check their identity at the door when they come to work.

Celebrating heritage months opens a door for necessary learning and honest conversation. It makes people in historically marginalized groups feel like they can be heard and that it is safe to bring their whole self to work.

If we don’t intentionally include, we will unintentionally exclude. Once an inclusive culture is in place, all of the positive benefits of an inclusive culture follow, such as increases in productivity, morale, creativity, collaboration, and so on.

Dos and Don’ts for Heritage Months

Given these new societal expectations, below is some practical advice to help you think about how your organization can celebrate heritage months:

  1. Show you care

In thinking about meeting stakeholder expectations, one common expectation is that all stakeholders expect you to care.

The first thing organizations and leaders can do to show they care is to utilize heritage months to facilitate learning about the history and culture of the specific community being celebrated. For example, an organization can host a screening of a relevant documentary or organize a book club or common read of a book the subject.

The second way organizations can show they care is to build understanding and advocate for solidarity, during heritage months and beyond. Using the AAPI Heritage Month as an example, you can host town hall meetings or facilitated conversations and invite AAPI employees to share their experiences and stories. As leaders, you can also personally reach out to your AAPI team members to offer support or appreciation of their contribution to the team.

  1. Address violence and oppression, while celebrating progress

Heritage months are to be celebrated – recognizing each community’s contribution to this country’s history and rejoicing in the richness and uniqueness of each cultural identity. However, we cannot celebrate cultural differences without addressing ongoing violence and oppression. Heritage months are also a reminder that we still have work to do to ensure justice and equity for all people in the US.

One way to address ongoing violence and oppression is by simply acknowledging the ongoing challenges faced by the group and announcing and/or reminding people of what action the organization is taking to address these challenges and ensure equity within and beyond the organization. For example, AAPI Heritage Month can be a great time to launch an AAPI employee resource group (ERG) or a mentorship program that focuses on sponsoring AAPI employees.

  1. Be consistent

As I noted before, all DE&I work takes commitment. Leaders and organizations need to be disciplined and consistent in celebrating all people of all identities throughout the year. Once you start celebrating heritage months, a new expectation will be formed among those who matter to you. For example, if you publicly acknowledge AAPI Heritage Month this year, the Indigenous people within your organization or among your customer base will expect you to acknowledge Native American Heritage Month in November as well.

Consistency also means that even when heritage months are over, your commitment to those communities should remain until the celebration of difference becomes a natural part of the organization’s culture.

  1. Avoid window-dressing.

Window-dressing is best understood as performative advocacy that does not pair with tangible action or the delivery of promises made. While making big promises and statements may feel right in the short-term, in the long run window-dressing further alienates marginalized groups and cultivates a toxic culture. Every statement or newsletter you push out makes implicit promises to those who matter to you. If you feel pressured to make a statement on a social issue without being prepared to follow through with real action, you are not ready to make that statement (yet).

Concluding Thoughts

The American identity was shaped collectively by a variety of races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and many other nuanced identity factors. And this is what makes the United States unique.

In the United States, we can hold pride in our uniqueness and in our diversity, while also holding and acknowledging the atrocities and injustice that are also core to this nation’s history.

This duality is also true for heritage months – heritage months come with opportunities and risks, enormous responsibility and tremendous potential. If done right, heritage months can help to lift the sense of otherness and alienation among marginalized groups and foster an inclusive culture in your organization.