Why Your DEI Programs Are Not Working

Address low morale and increase DEI recruitment and retention by looking at these three key areas of your organization

January 23, 2022

How do you address low morale at your organization? What can you do to foster more diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in recruitment and retention?

In her 15-minute Shop Talk session, “3 Reasons Your DEI Programs Are Not Working,” Elaina Norlin presented research and anecdotes from consulting on DEI issues to attendees of ALA’s LibLearnX virtual conference on January 23.

Norlin, author of The Six-Step Guide to Library Worker Engagement (ALA Editions, 2021) and professional development and DEI program coordinator for the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries, began by noting that DEI programming is a billion-dollar business. In 2020, it was worth $8 billion and growing.

This business includes not just programming but also awareness of racism, microaggression, unconscious bias, and institutionalized racism, as well as developing strategies to recruit and retain employees. She said that recent studies show 92% of DEI trainings fail on multiple levels and can create more harm than good.

How can workplaces, then, support an inclusive environment for everyone?

First, recognize that every organization is different. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” said Norlin. “It’s not just, ‘Bring a consultant in and do a one-shot thing.’”

Second, she said, successful companies have the following characteristics:

  • They focus on people over policy.
  • They are agile and flexible.
  • They know how to manage conflict.
  • They do effective performance assessments.

“Conflict is inevitable,” she said. “It’s good; it’s healthy.” The problem is when these natural conflicts aren’t properly resolved and the ill feelings and trauma fester within an organization.

Third, organizations need to commit to DEI. True DEI, said Norlin, is when everyone is valued and respected for the unique and special talents they bring to the organization.

She suggested looking at three key areas within your institution:

Organization Climate. “It’s where your feelings are.” It’s the vibe or feel of your organization and where the DEI work resides. “It’s a snapshot.”

Organizational Norms. These are the rules of your organization. They dictate your day-to-day operations: your policies, procedures, strategic plans, and vision statements. “This is where the people-over-policy stuff comes into play.” Some rules and policies may have been written more than 25 years ago and may no longer fit how your organization operates today.

Organizational Culture. This is “the heart of the work.” This is where your company’s unwritten rules and expectations exist. This is where previous injustices, traumas, and status quos live. Even though you can’t necessarily see or feel it, culture “shapes the climate.” The problem: “You can’t change what’s unwritten.”

To address recruitment and burnout, she recommended companies evaluate their climate (Is there a lack of trust, backstabbing, and bullying?), norms (What’s part of the recruitment plan?), and culture (How many hours are people really working? Is there intense competition?). She noted: Why would someone want to put energy into recruiting if they aren’t happy themselves?

When addressing low morale, Norlin sees that scarcity can be a big factor. During one consulting job, she said employees felt they were doing more and more with less and less and were seeing people leave the organization and their positions not being replaced. After a while, people became apathetic.

“What really needed to be talked about here,” she said, “is how to balance out this culture that drove [them] to do more with less.”


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