20 Lessons from the Trenches – Lesson 1: Are we all like sheep with D&I?


As you might know, emberin have been working in the trenches with large organisations around the world for over 12 years now, so we have some street cred to make some observations about what works and what doesn’t.

We have decided to put together our lessons from the trenches in the hope that some of this information may assist organisations who are trying to make an impact – and to help accelerate their journeys.

We have compiled a list of 20 lessons – and today we are sharing some information from Lesson No. 1. 

Lesson 1: Organisations follow each other without proper assessment of ROI of initiatives – Are we all like sheep? 

In our experience we see well-meaning people become ‘champions’ within their organisations for diversity and inclusion. These individuals do this out of passion – not expertise – it’s their voluntary ‘night’ job – and we applaud them for their time and enthusiasm.

The problem is that these individuals who come from the business have no experience in behavioural change/ habit shift science – it’s not their day job, so why should they! They are tasked with supporting diversity and inclusion efforts – and what we typically see is that they look externally for ideas. They go and see what other major organisations who have had prominent press or awards in diversity and inclusion, are doing. They have coffees with senior executives of these companies. These executives believe their initiative is awesome – and they sell it to the next company as a great idea. BUT, because these executives are also non-behavioural experts – they are defining success by the degree of ‘PR’ or popularity or the ‘feel good factor’ of the initiative – rarely do we see solid ROI analysis.

Sometimes the decision to add an item to the diversity and inclusion laundry list is based on no other rationale than ‘I’ll have what they’re having!” i.e. if XYZ major company is doing it, it must be right, so we had better do it too!

Another issue we see is that many of the ‘champions’ are very senior executives. These well-meaning senior people come up with their own ideas based on their areas of passion and frankly, who/what they may be connected to externally. They share these ideas with the human resources/ diversity and inclusion team and, because of their level of seniority, everyone scurries to make it happen. Again, there is limited ROI analysis or assessment of suitability for the particular organization.

Some organisations are unfortunately like sheep when it comes to designing their diversity and inclusion strategies. They look at the ‘famous’, assess what is sparkly – and add it to the shopping cart. What results is a laundry list of diversity and inclusion initiatives that look like the organization is doing AMAZING things in this space – but if you dig deeper and analyse the substance and impact, it’s not there.

Organisations have a laundry list of activities that they are aiming to achieve in order to meet their diversity and inclusion targets. Although there might be marginal change – it’s not working fast enough, and in many instances, there is zero return.


How can you do less and achieve more? How can you get really focused on the OUTCOME you are trying to achieve?

The truth is that most employees are sick of hearing about how they should or must make their companies more diverse by hiring more women, more people of cultural difference, more people with disabilities, more people of different colours! These edicts from above, have not tackled the underlying fear that leaders have about opening up the ranks of the management to women and other under-represented groups, in order to meet targets.

“We are failing at diversity and inclusion – and yet, we keep taking the same approach and we are expecting a different result! Doing things the way you have always done them …will get you the same results!

The numbers sum it up. Your organisation will become less diverse, not more, if you require managers to go to diversity training, try to regulate their hiring and promotion decisions, and put in a legalistic grievance system.”

Harvard Business Review

The brave are overt in their questions, many agree but silently ask the unspoken questions:

  • What about merit?
  • So, you mean I won’t get the job because I’m not part of an under-represented group – even though I am the best person for the job?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • I see the benefit for people from under-represented groups – but I have commitments too, I have ambitions, do I just accept it and not push myself forward? There is really nothing in this for me personally!

Increased attention has NOT resulted in greater diversity and inclusiveness:

In a Forbes Insight survey of 300 multi-national executives, 41% identified the ‘failure to perceive the connection between diversity and business drivers’ as a barrier to developing and implementing a diversity strategy.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity. Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960’s —which often make things worse, not better.”

Harvard Business Review – We’ll have what Google is having!!

Five years after instituting required training for managers, companies saw no improvement in the proportion of white women, black men, and hispanics in management, and the share of black women actually decreased by 9%, on average, while the ranks of Asian-American men and women shrank by 4% to 5%.

Many participants actually reported more animosity toward other groups afterwards.

Companies too often signal that training is remedial.

Companies do a better job of increasing diversity when they forgo the control tactics and frame their efforts more positively. The most effective programs spark engagement, increase contact with people who are ‘different’ or draw upon people’s strong desire to look good to others. For example – Women’s mentoring programs increased women’s representation by 18%.

Harvard Business Review

 A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” FORBES

I’ll have what they are having – classic examples:

Some examples that we have seen include:

  • The ‘let’s do unconscious bias training’ trend. The research clearly shows that on its own – unconscious bias training can actually send you backwards. Why? Well if we assume that most people are decent humans, and they are suddenly made aware that they might be biased, but they still don’t know what to do – humans will do nothing for fear that they might offend or do the wrong thing.
  • Let’s institute ‘blind CV’s’. Without the education and depth of understanding, this can result in a revolution. Hiring managers can feel suspicious and untrusted. They sometimes spend their time trying to guess whether it’s a male or female employee. In all, typically a disaster.
  • ‘One woman on every shortlist’ will fix it! We have seen some appalling behaviour from recruiters who want to ‘tick this box’! Placing a woman on the shortlist does nothing to change the behaviour of the hiring manager. Further, if a human being is forced to take a certain approach – they are often likely to stubbornly go the other way. What we hear is a detailed explanation around why the male candidate was the ‘best person for the job’ – without any understanding that this does not remove the subjectivity in the process.
  • All roles flex! What a great idea!! Except, the practical implementation of this will set you backwards when it is introduced prematurely before there is an understanding of the why, how and who that extends to the four corners of the organisation.
  • Let’s set up a diversity council with representatives from throughout the business. Again, we end up with well-meaning people in the room who are not experts on behavioural change, diversity and inclusion. In our experience, this typically results in 12 months of the members learning and trying things – and then rotating off the committee and the cycle starts again! The other issue is that these well-meaning people are typically not the decision makers – and hence, all they can do is set up initiatives to support the ‘frenetic’ diversity activity mindset which proves we are doing something!


As you can see, from all of this information – we can sometimes be seen to act like sheep – following the leaders and not stopping to assess the outcomes, ROI and rationale behind particular initiatives or strategies. We hope some of this information presented can challenge your thinking! From our perspective, we choose to take a much broader and more positive approach in the D&I space, focusing on individuals actions and shifting habits – which is harder but it does pay dividends in the ROI conversation. This broader focus enables us to shift leader and organisational thinking from the traditional ‘frenetic’ diversity activity mindset –  to a broader focus on inclusion. This focus, from our perspective, enables organisations to connect with and impact multiple different people focuses across the organisation with one core approach – inclusion – the overarching and enabling factor to not just diversity, but all other big ticket items for your organisations people stratergy including engagement, collaboration, innovation, psychological safety etc. etc.

If you would like to connect and discuss this information and what taking a broader, bigger picture view could look like in the D&I space we would love to hear from you. We are obsessed with getting results and are constantly striving to increase our ROI in everything we do!

  1. Submit a contact form here!
  2. Visit the website here!
  3. Give us a call on: 1800 306 698








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