11 April 2024 | Dr Jo Kandola

Are we moving the dial on DEI or just ticking the boxes?

Organisations across the board are taking action on diversity and inclusion, but is all this activity leading to fairer and more equitable workplaces? We take a look at what’s working in the DEI space and what organisations can do to bring about real and lasting change.

Diversity, equity and inclusion have become the buzzwords we can’t escape, and organisations everywhere are scrambling to create environments where everyone feels seen, heard and valued. But let’s peel back the curtain a bit. Are we really moving the dial on diversity and inclusion, or merely ticking the boxes? It’s time to consider the impact of all this activity, ask whether it’s genuinely making a difference – and look at a fresh approach that’s going to be a real game-changer.

Corporate DEI today

The heat is on….

We’re in an era where diversity and inclusion have taken centre stage. Companies, governments, and society at large are finally shining a spotlight on these critical issues and organisations are falling over themselves to burnish their inclusion credentials. And it’s no wonder. With diverse and inclusive organisations performing better, securing the best talent, boosting innovation and attracting more customers, employers are keener than ever to get in on the act and reap the diversity dividend.

It’s also the case that not being inclusive is having a tangible impact on the bottom line, with costly discrimination and harassment cases hitting headlines, reputations and company coffers on a regular basis. Revelations in 2023 of sexual harassment of staff by Odey Asset Management CEO Crispin Odey stretching back decades have led to massive reputational damage to the hedge fund and a mass withdrawal of investors, while accusations of racial profiling of its customers by Starbucks resulted in widespread revulsion and damage to the brand.

Diversity and inclusion training has also been put under the spotlight. Recent tribunal actions such as Allay vs Gehlen have shown that putting staff through a one-off DEI training course isn’t going to be sufficient for employers to claim that they’ve taken ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent discrimination and harassment.

…but the dial isn’t moving

All too often, however, this pressure to ‘do something’ isn’t translating into actual results. Organisations are frequently opting for quick-fix solutions or indulging in performative activity that has little to no long-term impact.

A depressingly stark example of this is how little has been achieved by race training implemented in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Prior to this horrific act, Pearn Kandola’s 2018 Racism at Work survey found that 60% of black people and 40% of Asian people reported that they had witnessed or experienced racism in the workplace. Repeat research two years later, after mass mobilisation of race fluency training, shows that this figure had barely shifted – remaining at 60% for black people, and actually increasing to 42% for Asian people.

Virtue-signalling: A fig leaf for inaction


One conspicuous upshot of the pressure to ‘act’ on diversity and inclusion has been the explosion of corporate virtue-signalling. Liberally sprinkling your social feed with Trans and Pride flags in a frenzy of ‘pink-washing’ or celebrating minority staff during Black History Month might gain you a slew of social media likes, but when these gestures aren’t backed up by any genuine allyship behind the scenes – and if exclusive behaviour continues unchallenged in the organisation – they leave in their wake a distinct whiff of hypocrisy and risk causing considerable reputational damage in the long run.


Time wasted on tick-box training

It’s a depressing fact that the boom in diversity and inclusion training over the past decade has failed to achieve much in the way of real behaviour change. This is largely down to the type of training that’s been on offer, but it’s also partly due to the reasons for its implementation in the first place.

Many organisations who were early adopters of diversity and inclusion training did so purely out of a desire to comply with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 and had little interest in changing behaviour or creating genuinely inclusive working cultures. As a result, DEI training has tended to be of the ‘tick-box’ variety and based largely around awareness-raising, with very little practical guidance on what being inclusive actually looks like.

Expectations around DEI training can often be unrealistic. We frequently hear from prospective clients who want engaging and impactful inclusion training for their people but can only commit to providing them with 30 minutes’ worth of training on account of their being extremely time poor. But let’s be honest: inclusion isn’t easy and biases are tricky customers. A one-off 30-minute e-learning course isn’t going to magically erase years of entrenched thinking and turn us into models of inclusive behaviour, and the impact, if any, is likely to disappear as quickly as your L&D budget.

Diversity and inclusion teams lack authority and resources

Another spanner in the works has been the rapid explosion of DEI roles. All too often hastily appointed as a PR exercise, with ill-defined responsibilities and deprived of both resources and senior management buy-in, many of these practitioners have struggled to engage organisations with inclusion issues and bring about systemic change.

As long as it’s relegated to a ‘nice-to-have’ as opposed to something that’s part and parcel of an organisation’s DNA, diversity and inclusion professionals will only ever find themselves shouting from the sidelines. In short, a vast amount of time, effort and money has been spent for very little measurable gain – and all the while, discrimination, exclusion, bullying and harassment continue to blight the lives of millions, organisations suffer from low productivity and poor performance, and talent goes unrecognised and untapped.

So, what’s the solution?

Behaviour change is key

As business psychologists, we know that training can achieve real, sustainable behaviour change – but we know from experience that any kind of learning intervention needs to have robust methods of behaviour change built in.

Research shows that individuals are more likely to develop new skills and alter their behaviour when they:

  1. Have basic knowledge and understanding of inclusion issues
  2. Receive personalised feedback on their skills and abilities
  3. Get clear guidance on how to develop those areas in which they are weakest, and
  4. Can measure their progress and get feedback on whether or not the changes they have implemented are having the desired impact.

Kandola+: Diversity and inclusion training that makes a difference

Using our deep understanding of behaviour change methodology, we’ve crafted a dynamic, personalised learning approach that takes learners beyond the tick-boxes and into actionable transformation.

  • Awareness

We start with awareness. No change is possible without opening our eyes to both the challenges and benefits of inclusion, and in this first stage participants explore a range of inclusion issues through insights and analysis from our psychologists. It’s not just about knowing what diversity and inclusion is and recognising a few key terms and concepts – it’s about building a solid foundation of understanding and awareness. This is where the vast majority of DEI training ends, but for us it’s just the beginning.

  • Insight

Change requires insight, and that’s where our second stage kicks in, with inclusion diagnostic tools to help us delve deep into any harmful associations we might have and identify any exclusive behaviours we display. These tools then provide in-depth, personalised feedback on our inclusion strengths and weaknesses and highlight those areas that are going to require the most work.

  • Action

Armed with our insights, it’s time for action. Becoming more inclusive can be an overwhelming process, which is why we follow up with personalised action plans that take individuals through a step-by-step process of becoming more inclusive. This might include specific behaviours they can practise, exercises to help them monitor their decisions for bias, or digital tools to help retrain the brain and break the harmful associations that can get in the way of fair and objective decisions.

  • Impact

Finally, after having gained the awareness, absorbed the insights and put what we’ve learned into practice, it’s time to measure our impact. Using a range of different tools, learners can measure how effective their inclusive actions have been and see how their skills have improved over the course of the programme.

But that’s not all. Alongside our training, we provide a DEI analytics dashboard that provides employers with organisation-wide, anonymised data on participant engagement and experience and learner activity, together with workforce inclusion insights that allow them to think more strategically about DEI and how their budgets are invested in the future.

If you’re ready to make a real difference in your organisation, talk to us about our evidence-based DEI learning platform or book a free demo today.