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January 7, 2013It’s officially the New Year—a classic time for new resolutions.

This year, I resolve not to be a D&I (Diversity & Inclusion for the uninitiated) bore, but I also resolve not to stop caring.

Catalyst’s recent Fortune 500 Census shows the state of paralysis we’re in. The number of women in Board Director and Executive Officer positions in the U.S. hasn’t budged in 7 years. In Europe, too, progress for women in business has been glacial.

My conundrum is this: we appear to be experiencing a gap between rhetoric and reality.  

A 2012 McKinsey study of 235 large European companies revealed that 90 percent of them had at least one diversity program in place (and several had many more than one). Despite this investment, many of these companies had yet to see results. Even if the top management were enthusiastic about the programs, senior and especially middle managers were found to be less keen.

If these numbers were associated with a business plan or a supply chain, the business in question would be a lost cause. Should we impose real consequences for non-compliance to stop us going round in circles?

We shouldn’t, of course, underestimate the pockets of progress in some valiant organizations, but the overall picture is one of stasis. In a recent talk, I used the analogy of a house with a working fire alarm—which burned down anyway!

It concerns me that we have invented our own rather exclusive language of D&I “groupies”—language which is difficult for those outside of our immediate circles to understand. This is at odds with our goal of emphasizing inclusivity.

Perhaps we need to simplify what we’re trying to say and not get bogged down in semantics? Has the fact that our rhetoric has taken on a life of its own created disengagement and let middle managers off the hook?

We know that both the “D” and the “I” words have vastly different definitions depending on who you’re speaking to. This is a challenge for all organizations, but particularly for cross-cultural ones. A Japanese worker will certainly have a different understanding of “inclusion” than his or her German counterpart.

In order to “get past stuck”—this blog’s overriding theme—we need to look at some hard truths. We need to care, and we need to find a way to up the ante to create change that is both sustainable and meaningful for men and women all over the world.