The Ugly Truth About Diversity “Initiatives”

By  La’Wana Harris

The big idea: Diversity and inclusion. We’ve been talking about it for decades. Today, high-profile headlines on corporate racial bias, widening pay gaps, and the #MeToo movement have thrust D&I back into the spotlight—again. Which begs the question: why aren’t we further along?

The fact is, there’s an ugly truth about diversity—and no one wants to talk about it: people fear they must give up their power to give others a chance.

The so-what? This fear has provoked an angry backlash. At Microsoft, irate employees are demanding proof that a diverse workforce is beneficial. In January, an ex-engineer sued Google, alleging it discriminates against white, conservative men. Executives at Intel have been threatened with violence after committing $300 million toward providing opportunities for women and minorities in tech. And a 2019 Pew Research STEM study found that roughly 2 in 10 white men feel they’re victims of reverse discrimination.

The key message: Sharing power isn’t the same as losing it, argues diversity and inclusion strategist La’Wana Harris, author of the new book Diversity Beyond Lip Service: A Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias (Berrett-Koehler Publishers; May 28, 2019). It’s on us, as leaders, to go beyond standard D&I training. We must provoke meaningful—and often uncomfortable—self-reflection and brutally honest conversations that lead people to realize we can share power—together.

Drawing from three decades of civic activism and two decades in the corporate D&I trenches, Harris offers leaders, D&I practitioners, and coaches new models that empower everyone, from employees to CEOs, to “do” inclusion and address deep-rooted biases that are often invisible.

Blending real-world stories, pragmatic strategies, and unwavering candor, Diversity Beyond Lip Service tackles tough questions that have been avoided in the mainstream narrative, including:
— Why hiring to create diversity—without increasing inclusion—is a recipe for failure
— How to recognize the privilege granted to various social groups, including males, heterosexuals, English speakers, the middle class, middle-aged, and able-bodied
— Why declaring “I don’t see color” does nothing but minimize others’ experiences
— Why we’re less able to notice privilege and bias when it benefits us
— How to turn privilege into a platform that moves everyone forward

The source: La’Wana Harris is a Certified Diversity Executive and an ICF Credentialed Coach who has created diversity and inclusion awareness programs, cultural competence programs, and overall integrated management solutions. Throughout her career as a global leadership development professional, she has conducted trainings around the world, including the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South Africa. She is the author of Diversity Beyond Lip Service: A Coaching Guide for Challenging Bias. Learn more at

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