The Real Reason Why DEI Initiatives Stall

January 18, 2022
January 18, 2022 Jamie Notter

In the last two years, a lot of organizations started paying a lot more attention to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work. This was long overdue, and there’s a long road ahead of us, so I’m glad we’re moving in the right direction.

That said, there’s some bad news here that we need to face: a lot of DEI initiatives fell short of expectations. We made some progress, but there are way too many initiatives out there that hit a wall. Like we had some good conversations among staff about DEI issues, but it never progressed past the informal conversations. Or we did some good training on DEI concepts, skills, and practices, but they didn’t stick—we didn’t see enough behavior change. We might even have jumped into changing policies and the way we recruit and hire people—critical areas for a deep DEI initiative. But what happens? We slide back into the way we’ve always done it.

I know this is frustrating, but here’s the good news: intentional shifts in your culture can advance your DEI initiative past the wall you’ve hit.

We pulled this insight from some deep research we’ve been doing into culture patterns. I won’t go into the details of the research here, but all cultures have patterns, and there are specific patterns that we think have a big impact on DEI work.

For example, if your staff training in DEI concepts and practices didn’t stick, It’s possible that your culture has a pattern we see all the time: the commitment to solving employee problems and developing people professionally is less valued than other parts of your culture. In cultures like that, people view training programs skeptically, assuming it’s there to simply “check the box.” You do the training, but it doesn’t stick.

Organizations where the DEI training does stick have invested in a culture that prioritizes solving problems for employees and investing in their growth and development. They didn’t do that with DEI in mind, necessarily—it was just a natural part of how they designed their culture. But by putting those specific pieces around problem solving and growth/development in place, they created a culture pattern that offered more fertile ground for the fragile seeds of DEI to grow inside the organization. The training sticks.

There are 10 specific culture patterns that will make or break the success of your DEI initiative, and you can see them all (including the 30 specific culture building blocks that make them up) in our WorkXO culture assessment. You might be able to breathe some life into your stalled DEI work by addressing some of the specific culture patterns that you see in the assessment.

We’re also in the process of developing an online course that includes a high-level self-assessment of the DEI culture patterns that can help you prioritize areas that will help ensure your DEI efforts stick. If you’d like to get an email as soon as the course is live, just let us know using our contact form.



Photo by Nareeta Martin

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.