Inclusion, Exclusion, or Maybe Both? Rethinking the Strategy for DEI Success

Inclusion, Exclusion, or Maybe Both? Rethinking the Strategy for DEI Success

The concept of inclusion is often touted as the cornerstone for the success of any initiative aimed at implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies. This emphasis on inclusion, however, raises a critical question: is inclusion truly the key, or might exclusion play a pivotal role as well? This paradox merits deeper examination.

Progressive organizations frequently and readily declare their commitment to fostering a culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. They highlight efforts to integrate individuals from diverse national backgrounds, those with physical or mobility challenges, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other underrepresented groups. While these efforts are undoubtedly crucial, they alone do not guarantee the successful implementation of a DEI policy. The true determinant of success lies in leadership’s ability to decisively exclude those who actively undermine these efforts.

To understand this dynamic, it is essential to identify who these undermining individuals are within an organization. Consider the following archetypes:

• The Resistant HR Director: This individual takes every opportunity to lament the perceived loss of freedom of speech due to “political correctness.” By doing so, they foster a climate of fear, discouraging employees from reporting discriminatory behaviors and thus perpetuating a toxic environment.

• The High-Performing Misogynist: This salesperson may achieve impressive results but creates a toxic work environment marked by intense competition and misogyny. Their behavior undermines the inclusive culture that the organization strives to build.

• The Autocratic Team Leader: This leader equates leadership with unilateral decision-making, disregarding the input and perspectives of team members. Such an approach stifles collaboration and inclusivity, essential components of a DEI culture.

• The Bigoted Client or Partner: This individual subjects employees to hate speech during professional interactions, targeting differences in age, sexual preference, gender, and more. Allowing such behavior to go unchecked signals a lack of commitment to DEI principles.

These individuals consistently poison the organizational culture, sabotage processes, and derail strategies aimed at fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. The failure to address and manage these destructive behaviors sends a clear message: the organization’s DEI policy is merely superficial, lacking genuine commitment. Consequently, employees who are truly invested in the DEI initiative will eventually become disillusioned and leave.

The efficacy of a DEI policy hinges on the organization’s willingness to exclude those who deliberately, or even inadvertently, obstruct progress. This approach, while potentially leading to short-term losses, offers significant long-term benefits. By removing harmful individuals, the organization not only improves its culture but also strengthens the foundation for sustainable DEI efforts.

In conclusion, while inclusion remains a fundamental aspect of any DEI initiative, the role of exclusion is equally vital. By identifying and removing those who undermine DEI efforts, organizations can create a truly inclusive environment. This dual approach—promoting inclusion while decisively excluding toxicity—ensures that DEI policies are not just aspirational but actionable and effective. Only through such comprehensive measures can organizations hope to foster a workplace that genuinely values and benefits from diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Anna Prodromou (PhD cand.) | DEI Consultant & Trainer


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