4 Steps To Promote Diversity & Inclusion Using Behavioral Science


Over recent years, we have seen leading organizations taking steps to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within their workplaces. Yet many are falling short of achieving their goals and failing to create real, lasting change. What are the common mistakes organizations make, and how can we use insights from behavioral science to promote DEI and prevent the same mistakes from happening moving forward?

To answer these important questions, ExecOnline teamed up with Jane Risen, Professor of Behavioral Science and John E. Jeuck Faculty Fellow at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. For the fourth webinar in our Power of Inclusive Leadership Series, Professor Risen shared a valuable framework for thinking about behavioral design and explored how it can be applied to organizations working to foster DEI in the workplace. While the framework is not specific to only DEI, it provides leaders with actionable steps they can begin taking now while also highlighting common mistakes and helpful tips to keep top of mind during each step.

Below you will find the 4-step framework shared by Professor Risen: 

1. Define the outcome.

Identify the specific goal and behavior that you are trying to influence and understand how you will measure whether you’re improving things as intended. For example, are you trying to change the representation of the people you hire? Are you trying to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels like they belong, no matter their social identity? 

❌ Common mistake: Organizations will dive right in and try to improve DEI without defining the specific goal or outcome they wish to improve. 

✅ Tip to do better: Ensure you can answer the following questions: What are your goals? What metrics are going to be most relevant for your organization? Why is your organization doing this DEI work?

2. Understand the context.

Diagnose why problems exist within your organization today. Visit the situations and the people. Talk to employees to understand the context from their perspectives.

❌ Common mistake: Organizations will jump to solutions before understanding the real causes of the problems. A frequent example of this is when organizations seek a quick and easy solution, such as hosting a diversity training session, even though the issues are far more complex and challenging.

✅ Tip to do better: Inequity can emerge from both formal and informal processes. To diagnose both, you must be willing to step beyond your own lived experiences and look to understand why people are experiencing the work differently.

3. Build your intervention.

Now that you have diagnosed the problems and you understand the different obstacles people are facing, you can inquire about the potential solutions.

“What’s key here is selecting solutions that specifically target the problem you have, and the reason that you’re having that problem.” – Professor Risen 

❌ Common mistake: Organizations borrow one-size-fits-all solutions and fail to address the particular problem  they identified. Perhaps the organization hasn’t done the work to identify the problem, or they try to implement another solution that they’ve heard or read about.

✅ Tip to do better:  Think about steps 2 and 3 as a joint process. If you understand the reason for the inequity, then you can generate solutions to specifically target that inequity. 

4. Test, learn, adapt.

Put your intervention into practice and use your metrics to uncover if you have done anything successfully. Are you moving closer to your goals?

❌ Common mistake: Organizations introduce new initiatives without metrics, goals, and plans for how they’re going to learn about what’s working.

✅ Tip to do better: Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Wherever possible, Professor Risen recommends you use randomized control groups to make it easier to determine whether what you are doing is working. If you cannot do this, make sure you create a plan for how you are going to learn and see what’s working.

We hope this framework provides guidance and encourages organizations and leaders to be open to trying new things. As Professor Risen explained, “If our goal is to learn, then even “failures” can be part of a successful journey. So if we’re too afraid to try something new, or we’re too afraid to evaluate something that we’re trying, then we’re never going to know how to make things better.” 

Interested in learning more? 

  • Watch the webinar recap available on-demand.
  • Download our Power of Inclusive Leadership Resource Guide. All insights come from our Power of Inclusive Leadership webinar series, where faculty from the world’s top schools address how leaders can promote change both within their organizations and their broader communities. All of the webinars that we outline in the guide are also available to watch on-demand today.