Three Popular Window Dressing Initiatives Disguised as Impactful EDI Interventions

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

This month, we’re talking about the second stage on the Diversity Journey Roadmap© – Window Dressing. When it comes to EDI, I don’t meet a lot of people who willingly invest in programmes and initiatives as a box-ticking exercise. Every person we work with is genuinely keen to ensure that progress is made on their EDI journey. But watch out for pitfalls: there are so many initiatives that are subscribed to with the very best intentions that turn out to be not much more than Window Dressing. Has your organisation fallen victim to them?

Three popular window dressing initiatives disguised as EDI interventions.
The three initiatives set out below might not seem like Window Dressing – and indeed have some merit in bringing awareness of EDI. That said, none of these initiatives does much to shift the needle on EDI – culture or numbers.

  1. Participating in Diversity-Related Awards Events

We all love a glamorous event that honours our rising stars, star performers and influencers.  Indeed, recognition for doing something well is an amazing boost to one’s career – and perhaps even brand.  In other words, they’re great window dressers!  But how impactful are awards events in progressing EDI for organisations?  As studies suggest, awards and recognition might have a short-term impact on motivation and behaviour.  But more must be done to harness real change.  The pitfall?  When an organisation spends a hefty budget on recognition and reward through award events, it often fails to invest in other, more meaningful initiatives that engage a broader audience within the organisation.  Getting people to recognise that change is needed when they might feel everything is already working well is a major undertaking.  Would an award recognising the top underrepresented performers in the organisation be able to deliver on this undertaking?

When contemplating participation in a diversity-related awards event, ask yourself these three questions:

1.  Does the event advance your EDI strategy or move you closer to your EDI ambition?

2. If you invest in the event, will there be enough resources left for other initiatives that have greater impact on advancing your EDI strategy/ambition?

3.  How will the event be perceived by those not impacted by it?

Thinking through the answers to these questions will, at the very least, allow you to put in place complementary plans to bring about the desired outcome.

  1. Appearing on Benchmarking Lists

Similarly, if you’re putting in place initiatives to achieve placement on a benchmarking list, you may find yourself going down a very narrow path that may not deliver the greatest impact for your EDI strategy relative to invested resources.  It might be a great boost to one’s brand recognition to be part of a list of the Top 50 Employers for women or Stonewall’s list of top employers.  That said,  might this be more of a marketing exercise?  And if it is, I wonder whether it  would have the desired marketing outcome.

When people want to find out about the culture of the company, they are much less likely to be swayed by benchmarking lists than the views of former and current colleagues.  They’re more likely to peruse Glassdoor indexes or similar, and discuss EDI at interviews.

Unless your EDI budget is as deep as your marketing budget, I recommend investing in more impactful initiatives that look at it from all the necessary angles.

  1. Setting Ambitious Targets

Companies love making public statements about their aim to achieve a greater level of representation.  In my experience, however, unless this exercise has been thought through carefully, it becomes a knee-jerk reaction or a concession to public pressure, without the understanding of how realistic the targets might be and what it takes to achieve them.  In my decade of experience in the EDI space, I have known many organisations to set lofty targets only to later extend them out or concede that they haven’t been met.

Setting ambitious targets doesn’t amount to much more than showing a desire to address a diversity-related challenge in the organisation.  But, to do this in a way that achieves results, each target ought to be based on data of where the organisation is and where it wants to be on a specific measurement, with a well-developed plan of how to achieve it.  For instance, if a target is set on increasing the number of female graduates hired into the organisation, it’s important to set out the precise steps needed to achieve this target, including a definition of what is achievable on an annual basis.

Without this forethought, setting targets on increasing representation in a company can have the opposite effect of highlighting how unprepared the organisation is to make the appropriate investments, or worse, that the target is simply a façade.

When it comes to choosing the right EDI initiatives, there is a danger that initiatives that are aimed at making a public statement will fall short of creating the necessary impact.  Getting EDI right is a complicated endeavour even when it is done well, so to spend time and resources on initiatives that have a low rate of return on EDI investment is something best avoided.