How to Get Corporate Diversity Right

Spoiler alert: It’s impossible

Tiffany Jana
Feb 28 · 6 min read
Source: Canva.com

Imagine the sound of chalk screeching down a chalkboard. For the generations who grew up with whiteboards; recall the sound of someone pulling a fork across their teeth as they finish shoveling in that last bite. Now you have a sense of my visceral response to the throngs of people who say they want to “get it right” when referring to their diversity strategies. The flip side of that coin, being afraid to get diversity ‘wrong,’ is no less frustrating.

It’s not that I lack compassion nor the capacity to comprehend the sentiment. The problem is that fear of failure is one of the biggest barriers to all human achievement. When you ascribe fear of failure to something as urgent as Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) work, you are virtually guaranteed that failure. If anyone had unlocked the secrets of how precisely to get it ‘right’, there would be no such fear. We would all simply sign up for the ‘guaranteed diversity win’ program and settle in as success draws ever near. That’s just not how it works.

You know precisely what your organization’s best effort looks like. Count the big wins and reverse engineer what it took to get there. Seldom do institutions score big with a paltry budget, lackluster commitment of time, and zero organized strategic plan — complete with accountability and goal-driven metrics. Why then, would leadership expect to achieve even a modicum of success with diversity while failing to abide by the best-practices of organizational commitment to setting and reaching attainable goals?

The absence of rigor, accountability, and intentionality in your diversity strategy is a setup for failure.

Considering the brilliant minds and structures that have facilitated your company’s business success, it almost seems that your failure in the JEDI sphere is intentional. Don’t feed and water your budding diversity work properly, and the it will die on the vine. Then it’s back to business as usual with the convenient cop-out that you ‘tried.’

This attitude and approach is fooling no one, least of all your stakeholders of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, people living with disabilities, women and people on the poles of the age spectrum.

We see you talking the talk without traversing the path of JEDI integrity.

What exactly are your afraid of? Why not invest in the wellbeing of the people who make profit possible? How much more evidence do you need that it’s good for business and it’s the right damned thing to do? You will ultimately lose your top-talent and what little diversity you do have if you delay meaningful action indefinitely. And in the case of the demographics you’ve struggled to attract — they aren’t coming, or they won’t stay, absent a genuine, committed effort to achieve human equity in the workplace.

There are way too many qualified, experienced practitioners in the field for companies to wing it and go-it-alone when it comes to their DEI strategies. Lily Zheng, Hella Social Impact, Dr. David Campt, Cook Ross, and my own company, TMI Consulting, are just a few. Would you let a random person at the company wing it in your accounting department, or do you look for credentialed people and companies with experience and expertise to manage your money? Precisely.

Stop asking under-qualified people to suddenly become experts in something as fraught and fragile as the wellbeing of humxns in protected categories. It’s reckless and irresponsible. It also demonstrates that someone in leadership wants to see diversity efforts fail. Continuing down this path communicates that the money is more important than the people. You invest in protecting the money while you leave your people out in the cold.

I’m a huge fan of adrienne marie brown’s ideas about emergent strategy. Her approach is what is required to do diversity well, versus the elusive ‘doing it right’.

Doing JEDI work well means deeply listening to the affected communities and co-creating a path forward.

Admittedly, it’s far easier and cheaper to do this the smaller your company. Nonetheless, it’s far from impossible to give everyone a voice as you craft your emergent JEDI strategy. Software like Loom the Culture Map, strategists like Howard Ross, and companies like Pink Cornrows and inQuest Consulting can help you navigate the treacherous waters of authentic inclusion. Indeed, there’s reason to be afraid. But you should be far more afraid of inaction than of making a sincere effort to strategize and implement sustainable diversity solutions.

While it’s okay to look for diversity best-practices outside of your company, it’s foolish to use other people’s goals and language as your own. The beauty of humxn systems is that they are brilliant unique based on the representative composition of the groups you lead.

Cookie cutter solutions cannot exist in this space because each culture is as individual as the leaders and the people they lead. What works for one company can flop at yours.

After listening to your people, decide what goals make sense for the business and the people. It could be a focus on Antiracism, equity, community representation, or any number of goals that serve your people and the organizational vision. There are no universally correct goals, only goals that meet the needs of your stakeholders.

Part of the reason JEDI work remains shrouded in mystery is attributable to the reality that companies often remain afraid to share their diversity data. That’s why it was such a huge deal when tech companies in silicon valley began publishing their diversity statistics. It allowed for transparency within the industry, thereby helping tech execs be less ashamed and fearful of the present state, while still creating accountability for a more inclusive future state.

Unfortunately, data transparency is only the first step. Action must follow. That is why TMI Consulting and others prefer the research based approach.

Data absent action severely limits efficacy.

Submit a note through TMI’s contact page if your company is interested in being part of a growth oriented diversity research study.

Nonetheless, the tech execs knew they were in shared company and they should have brainstormed solutions together. The visibility of the issue should have prompted recruiting firms and HR departments divert more resources to building relationships with communities of color in service of increasing BIPOC representation. If you are unsure what data to share, consider joining a research study designed to advance JEDI imperatives.

An increasing number of companies, think tanks, professional associations and consortiums are inviting companies to help be part of the solution. Being part of a diversity research study, particularly with seasoned JEDI innovators, demonstrates corporate commitment to moving beyond the Blackwashing and PR stunts. It’s time to move towards measurable impact and industry leadership in service of establishing best-practices for diversity.

One of the primary obstacles to organizational JEDI success is stop/start efforts that stall out over time. If the inertia isn’t intentional, then you must prioritize your diversity strategy accordingly.

I warn my clients that if their JEDI initiative isn’t in their top three strategic priorities, it will likely fail.

The absolute lowest it should fall is 5th place. Any lower than the top five priorities and you are better off not even taking it on. You will throw away time, money, and the goodwill of your staff. The further JEDI is from first place, the more time, money, resources, and patience you will need to maintain momentum. Getting diversity right is impossible. Doing it well is intentional.

2.28.21

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Tiffany Jana

Written by

Non-binary Best-Selling Author, Bias Hunter, B Corp Founder, TEDx, Inc.com Top 100 Speaker, Skier, Pleasure Activist, Blue-Haired Maverick

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

Tiffany Jana

Written by

Non-binary Best-Selling Author, Bias Hunter, B Corp Founder, TEDx, Inc.com Top 100 Speaker, Skier, Pleasure Activist, Blue-Haired Maverick

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +788K followers.

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