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Dr. Tiffany Brandreth Defying Trends and Unveiling 5 New Controversial Biases Causing the DEI Death Zone

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives have become an increasingly relevant aspect of work culture over the past year as social awareness continues to grow, boosted by the accountability that social media and technology have brought to the table. Unfortunately, research suggests that most of these initiatives are failing, which is something that most people who have gone through would agree with. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 40% of organizations view diversity work as a way to mitigate legal and compliance risks, basically ignoring all of the benefits such efforts can entail. However, even when launched with the right vision and intention in mind, most DE&I initiatives seem to be doomed to fail. 

We interviewed Dr. Tiffany Brandreth, a leadership and organizational psychologist, driving DE&I for over 20 years as the brilliant mastermind behind the scenes across Global Fortune 20, Fortune 500, and Multinational Private Corporation. She is gaining widespread recognition as North America’s leading authority transforming DE&I by defying trends driven by the powerhouse management consulting companies and trailblazing the field with bold new answers. 

The following is the most insightful conversation we have come across around DE&I leaving no doubt how Dr. Brandreth has earned her reputation that is best heard through her voice. 

What factors do you attribute to DE&I still failing? 

As an industry we keep drawing attention to its failure without supplying substantive answers that target the source of the problem. Information reached a point of oversaturation that it became exasperating to open another report or read another set of recommendations because either the real work is not being understood, being executed, or the risk to reveal what is happening behind the DEI curtain would be far too consequential so the truth remains concealed while we fail those whose voices remain silenced. 

What ‘failing DEI’ really means is that we are failing those with whom this work is intended to create an even playing field for. This is not expecting special treatment or an unearned advantage, it means removing the added roadblocks built from bias that are only set in front of certain characteristics and demographics. This is what keeps me up at night and the responsibility I carry every single day that drives the integrity this work necessitates. I know there are many others in the same boat carrying the same weight. Which is why this must become a shared responsibility versus the imbalance that exists today.

As one person, I carry more weighted care and investment to transform inequity and exclusion across an organization than the collective weight its own executive team are carrying. This is not a criticism, but rather a genuine concern for the incongruence between stated commitment comparative to practices that are letting down the groups from whom leadership asked feedback from to only then dismiss their contributions in subtle, effective ways. We can only ask for change for what we are brave enough to name so this is a humble plea for senior leadership teams to help carry this weight with a magnitude that matches ours- not through what they define as the problems and solutions – but through the perspective of their workforce and DEI expertise. 

Is this what compelled your research?

Yes! This epidemic compelled me to spend months investigating, examining and analyzing absolutely every digital media form to exhaustion that exposed so clearly this-  our industry trends are stalling change rather than furthering it. The upside is that our field has evolved considerably that it has reached a plateau:  

  • speakers to empower marginalized individuals follow the same flawed formula
  • trainings to educate managers on bias follow the same prescriptive approach
  • research to inform leaders produce the same redundant, macro level solutions 
  • reasons why DEI is failing repeat the same indirect, symptoms versus the source of the problems

This means the bar is ready to be raised. I dove into all my qualitative and quantitative data, projects, recommendations, and work accumulated over the years and created a new research study ‘Why is DEI failing’ which meant coding, categorizing, and analyzing differently from its original purpose and use. I could barely contain my excitement because I felt like Dorothy discovering the yellow brick road with every step illuminating the next brick and next step forward.

Can you talk about the unconscious biases you believe will draw some controversy? 

From the 80% of Executives as strong DEI advocates who were both advancing and oppressing DEI in my research, what I found even more groundbreaking were precisely five unconscious biases leading DEI and causing the DEI Death Zone™. Given this is Disrupt Magazine, I find it fitting to share all five here first with you! 

1-Compliance. Being stewards of the law equates to expertise and qualified to supervise DEI decisions. 

This functions under the belief that because HR’s duty is to prevent discrimination, they possess the knowledge and qualifications to supervise DEI. Yet, an inherent conflict of interest exists with protecting the company that creates greater risk and necessitates removal of its function out from every HR Department.   

2-Advocacy. Being an advocate qualifies to lead change and trusted with directing DEI decisions.

This functions under the belief that strong advocates for DEI are appropriate authorities to make decisions such as directing Bias Training or Chairing the D&I Committee. However, without DEI expertise, forms of bias remain undetected that inaccurately educates and authoritative direction is irresponsible and oppressive to DEI. 

3-Intention. Being well-intended and committed is sufficient to lead people and manage DEI decisions.

This functions under the premise that intention is sufficient criteria without prior experience or proven performance in managing diversity, equity, and inclusion that will effectively lead people and DEI decisions. In actuality, the incentive to learn these skills has been removed and intention or commitment does not increase skills but rather creates an unsafe and unprotected work environment for diverse employees.  

4-Experience. Being from a marginalized classification qualifies to position and exempt from oppressive DEI decisions. 

This functions under the belief that living oppression means ‘experience’ equates to ‘prevention of’ and ‘exempt from’ such behaviors. Contrary, knowledge does not equate to expertise and the duality of holding both one-up and one-down roles has not received adequate attention in DEI learning nor has the misuse in power.

5-Power. Being in a position of power authorizes and qualifies to make credible DEI decisions. 

This functions under the premise the highest authority exercises all power in final decisions without needing expertise in DEI. DEI is being led from an authority bias that invalidates the subject matter expertise required that is comparable yet not compromised to perform surgeries, litigate cases, construct buildings, fly aircrafts, or guide climbers to the summit of Mt. Everest. 

I can see why these may be controversial. Where does DE&I go from here? 

Before answering that, a very serious relationship with Power and DEI is at play. This is the only bias that intersected with each of the four in every scenario. 

We understand that diversity intersectionality is defined as individuals experiencing discrimination by possessing multiple identities such as being a female and person of color. Translating this to DEI, an intersectionality exists between the five unconscious biases that is important for our field to pay close attention to and I plan to conduct further research in. 

For example, an HR Executive led decisions and exhibited behaviors from Compliance and Power; a Chief Diversity Officer led decisions and exhibited behaviors from Experience, Advocacy and Power; and a CEO led decisions and exhibited behaviors from Intention and Power. 

This understandably may be tough to process. I would like it to show how far our field has come that enabled this learning. The adoption lifecycle stages could be applied to its receptivity. We will have the innovators jump on board, then the early adopters, followed by the early majority, late majority, and finally the laggards. 

I am excited for the innovators to help trailblaze this path with enthusiasm and interest to hear the solutions that dismantle these biases finally giving DEI a real chance. I have not presented the DEI Summit Strategy™ yet because I have more data and more layers to discuss before the industry is ready to tackle what will become our future best practices. 

It is really important for me to convey that I am not discounting or discrediting the positions being held nor the contributions that have been made through these positions. We have been leading based on the answers in front of us. We need all the executives advocates for DEI to join this redirection, continue leading with us and even invite more in as a result of these new answers. 

The one piece of advice for those ready to take action is to make a slight pivot. Maintain your power but relinquish the 100% authority you are exercising with DEI and simply co-share the responsibility of DEI decision-making with a credentialed professional equipped to help navigate this complex journey in partnership.

As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I love that quote for DEI today. 

These five unconscious biases are what I have deemed ‘very comfortable deceptions yet highly uncomfortable truths’. At the same time, this cracks the code and opens the door to an exciting new journey that alters our current path. 

We can now imagine a future that is much brighter in fulfilling what this world is pursuing and hungry for – a diverse, equitable and inclusive society that has eliminated oppression. We can begin in corporate America and organizations across all of North America – I know this is achievable because it is through the best part of the human condition where the answer and solution solely exists.   

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