Once upon a time, I was a graduate student studying organizational psychology—a fancy term for “the science of human behaviour as it pertains to the workplace.” I remember looking at my calendar of required courses and thinking most of them seemed intuitive and made sense when I think about the value of psychology in the workplace.

For example, I had a course focussing on employee development, where we learned about research-backed practices for creating effective learning and development programs. I had another course where we learned about recruitment and selection and how to apply research-backed principles to the design of hiring processes. 

All of these made sense to me. I could see the value they could bring to organizations. Their connection to the workplace was obvious. But I remember one particular course, "Social Processes in the Workplace.” My first reaction was, “what the heck am I going to learn in this course, and how will I apply it?” Little did I know it would become the most impactful course I had in my 7+ years as a postsecondary student. 

What are social processes, and why do they matter to organizations?

The best definition I could find to help explain social processes comes from sociology, which defines them as “the means by which culture and social organization change or are preserved.” 

If we were to take this definition and apply it to the workplace, then what we are really talking about are processes that are put in place to change or preserve a company’s culture and the dynamic between employees. 

More organizations have realized the importance of company culture and interpersonal workplace dynamics. A study by McKinsey found that 3 of the most important factors that affect an employee’s decision to stay with a company are:

  • Being valued by their manager.

  • Their sense of belonging in the workplace.

  • Being valued by their organization.

This can be compared with factors that employees view as being less important, such as: 

  • Living in a desirable location.

  • Starting a business.

  • Access to technology.

  • The ability to work autonomously.

If we were to look at the big picture, it’s clear that people care most about social factors; we want to feel like we belong and that the people we surround ourselves with care about us. Less important factors are those that are more “me”-focused.

This example helps to articulate the importance of social processes and why organizations must focus on building and sustaining a culture of belonging. Diversity & Inclusion initiatives are a big part of that. 

But here’s the thing about social processes—they take time. They must be managed carefully, slowly, and over extended periods. 

When we enstate rules, policies, and regulations that will require people to change the way they think and behave, we need to treat that as a gradual process. Otherwise, we won’t be able to create meaningful change that will last. 

And the earlier we can recognize this, the better equipped we are to treat Diversity & Inclusion initiatives in the workplace for what they are, a social process. 

3 reasons why Diversity & Inclusion initiatives often fail

Now that we’ve made the case for why Diversity & Inclusion initiatives must be treated as a social process let’s unpack three of the most common reasons these initiatives fail within organizations.

1. Poor understanding of what Diversity & Inclusion means

People often have misconceptions about what Diversity & Inclusion means. Education about Diversity and Inclusion, both as separate components and working in tandem together, is part of the social process. People can’t support a cause if they don’t understand what they are supporting.

One common misconception is that diversity is all about differences that we can see, such as ethnic groups or gender. While these are certainly important, and organizations should strive to ensure proper representation of these groups, there are also differences that we cannot see, such as differences in abilities and sexuality and neurodiversity (which refers to variation in the human brain that can affect sociability, learning, attention, and mood).

Improving our awareness of all the ways in which we can support diversity in the workplace—and putting a spotlight on our unconscious biases—is a step in the right direction. 

Furthermore, it is important to highlight that inclusion focuses on creating a sense of belonging and support within the workplace. Maintaining a diverse workforce is part of this. It is hard to belong somewhere if you feel like you are different from everyone else. Still, everything falls apart without putting practices that encourage acceptance and equal treatment of employees. 

Key takeaway: Take the time to educate and re-educate about Diversity & Inclusion.

2. No long-term plan

As mentioned previously, social processes take time. For real behavior change to happen, we must continually take small steps toward our goal. Implementing a Diversity & Inclusion training program may help in the short term. Still, it needs to become part of your company’s long-term plan, strategy, and messaging to create real change within your organization.  

Key takeaway: Consider how you will implement Diversity & inclusion initiatives in the long run, thinking about how things will unfold over the next 2+ years.

3. Lack of organizational alignment and consistency

Diversity & Inclusion initiatives need to be integrated across the organization, from hiring to training to how we manage performance. When there is a lack of alignment or consistency between different organizational processes, it comes across as inauthentic. 

Key takeaway: Diversity & Inclusion can’t operate in a silo. Ensure it is consistent across all of your organization’s practices. 

Maximizing the success of your organization’s Diversity & Inclusion initiatives 

Putting all of this together, how can you maximize the success of your organization’s Diversity & Inclusion initiatives?

There’s no perfect science to this. How each company approaches Diversity & Inclusion will differ depending on several factors, including your organizational culture. 

But to help you get started, here are some things you can do to ensure your Diversity & Inclusion initiatives lead to sustainable change (or preservation) within your organization. 

1. Bring in an expert

This is consistent with the Law of Authority (see Cialdini’s Six Laws of Persuasion), whereby credible and knowledgeable experts in their fields are viewed as more influential and persuasive than those who are not. You also want to ensure you aren’t spreading misinformation, so engaging with someone up-to-date with best practices in Diversity & Inclusion is essential. 

At Wrk, we’ve done exactly this. We engaged with an external facilitator to deliver an impactful and high-value workshop about unconscious bias and how it affects decision-making for our team. 

Dr. Chela White-Ramsey is an interactive and engaging facilitator and keynote speaker, delivering virtual and in-person sessions to individuals and countries worldwide. When crafting these experiences, she focuses on understanding what stakeholders want participants to know, feel, and do upon hearing her speak. She has delivered compelling talks and workshops for company events, conferences, employee resource groups, and more. 

Recently, she launched The Sister Circle—a group coaching series for high-achieving Black women navigating burnout, imposter syndrome, and limiting beliefs like perfectionism.

Dr. White-Ramsey has facilitated Diversity & Inclusion workshops for over a decade, having worked with several other companies in the tech space, including Roblox, Dropbox, and General Assembly. One of the most appreciated aspects of her workshops is her ability to engage with her audience meaningfully and personally. 

2. Turn education into action

Developing your employees' knowledge base is a great first step, but the next step is turning that into action.

Reward those who make an effort to ensure that all voices are heard and included in your day-to-day operations.

Correct any behaviors that take away from your company’s Diversity & Inclusion efforts through a mixture of policy enforcement and implementation of an ongoing feedback system.  

3. Work with your leadership team to ensure alignment on initiatives across departments

Diversity & Inclusion initiatives must align your organizational practices, from hiring to training to managing performance. To ensure initiatives are being implemented successfully across the organization, consider:

  • Assembling a Diversity & Inclusion committee;

  • Frequently communicating with all employees concerning best practices and initiatives

  • Determining who your Diversity & Inclusion champions are

  • And ensuring they have a platform to speak about issues, etc.

Bringing it all together

At the end of the day, implementing Diversity & Inclusion initiatives can be tricky, and you won’t always get it right. But doing something to support Diversity & Inclusion in your organization is better than doing nothing. So don’t worry so much about getting things perfect. 

Like most things in life, you can take many different paths to reach a similar outcome, so do what feels right for your company, given the resources you have at hand. You may hit some obstacles, but take those as learning opportunities rather than failures. 

And finally, remember that Diversity & Inclusion is a social process. It is the sum of all social interactions that take place between members of your organization over extended periods of time. Even if you only manage to change the thinking and behavior of a few people at first, those people will go on to influence others. Think of it like a ripple effect—a few initial movers may not create huge waves at first, but those individuals will influence their circle of peers, who will then go on to influence their circle of peers, etc. Ultimately, you create and expand your network to rise together and create lasting social change. 

If you’d like to learn more about our company culture at Wrk, check out our homepage.