“Unlocking the Secret to Successful DEI Implementation: Understanding Why Many Efforts Fall Short”

Why DEI Initiatives Are Failing to Bring Progress

In 2020, there was a surge in social justice movements that encouraged individuals and institutions to commit to increasing equity and reducing racism. Many companies and organizations made statements, built strategic action plans and formed committees to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) concerns. However, despite these efforts, many metrics have revealed a lack of progress. In this article, we examine why DEI initiatives are failing to yield their intended results and what organizations and individuals can do to make them more effective.

Individual Accountability vs. Institutional Commitment

When organizations start to grapple with equity work, they often begin with some kind of unconscious bias or microaggression training. This training seeks to unveil unconscious racism and prejudice while untangling complex interpersonal dynamics. This type of training is essential as microaggressions can take a toll on work culture and undermine retention and recruitment efforts. However, it fails to address the systemic nature of bias, racism, sexism, and inequity. Therefore, for organizations to make significant changes, they must analyze how racism and other inequities show up throughout the organization’s structure. Institutional practices and policies, including hiring practices, advancement pipelines, and human capital policies, must be interrogated.

Challenging the Belief that DEI Work Always Has to Look Like “Work”

Individuals and institutions must also recognize that DEI work does not always have to feel like “work.” Typically, society conditions us to think about equity work as a struggle associated with marches, sit-ins, and clashes with the police. DEI work might feel like a burden, leading to exhaustion or burnout because social justice movements are often associated with violence, confrontation, and tension. However, social justice movements are not all about struggle but rather about resilience, liberation, celebration, and joy. Therefore, organizations must find space for joy and celebration in their DEI initiatives.

Combining Joy and Inclusion in Educational Institutions

Educational institutions tend to hyper-focus on deficits concerning students of color, such as the fact that they trail behind their white counterparts in math and literacy. Nonetheless, such institutions seldom celebrate the accomplishments of students of color. To rectify this, teacher training and leadership development must be commitments towards joy and celebration for students of color. Rooted in Joy, a field guide for education stakeholders, serves as a model for creating classroom communities that emphasize equity, belonging, and care.


DEI initiatives must shift from solely tackling interpersonal challenges and address institutional inequities as well. Organizations must recognize the importance of combining joy and inclusion to help create sustainable DEI results. Joy and celebration must take center stage in DEI initiatives to prevent burnout and ensure that marginalized groups are viewed as more than merely their challenges.

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