Hole in Donut Syndrome

by Mar 3, 2022

The inclusive workplace should be a no-brainer

The inclusive workplace should be a no-brainer but it gets stuck in what I call the “Hole in Donut Syndrome.”


There is no doubt that the resistance to inclusive workplaces is significant. This pushback can be around misogyny, racism, ageism, or all other forms of bias. The inclusive workplace should be a no-brainer but it gets stuck in what I call the “Hole in Donut Syndrome.” That is, those who are resistant to the idea or any piece of it, focus on the hole, the downsides, and what is missing and not the benefits  – the yumminess of the donut itself.

Hole in Donut Syndrome


Benefits of an inclusive workplace

For businesses, there are significant benefits of a gender-balanced, diverse and inclusive workplace. This is the donut piece.

  •  Innovation and creative thinking goes up
  •  Increased productivity and therefore profitability
  •  Companies are more aligned with their customer base.
  •  Increased employee retention
  •  Higher levels of employee engagement
  •  Reduced absenteeism and sick leave
  •  Greater sense of belonging leading to improved employer branding

Worth a look: How to Manage a Remote Team More Inclusively 

For individuals it’s part of psychological safety, being recognised, and listened to.  This all leads to an enhanced feeling of belonging and well being which gives a sense of purpose.

 Barriers to inclusion

The barriers to inclusion are the resistance that is frequently encountered. This is the hole in the donut, the piece that is missing. This is usually around:

One of the most important elements to bringing about cultural transformation (and gender balance, diversity and inclusion is very much about this) I discovered, is not so much about having a persuasive pitch. I really thought I could convince people with carefully constructed and reasonable arguments, and hey ho, they would be convinced.

I know. A slow study. What I found out is that some people can only focus on the hole and not the donut.



Reasons for resistance

But I finally got it that resistance comes from a place of fear. Usually when people are resistant to change it’s necessary to find out what their real concerns are.

There are a huge range of reasons that people are fearful of the future which underpins the hole in the donut syndrome. It could be:

  • Their specific role in the new world might be under threat or they perceive it to be.
  • They have a feeling of loss or concerns about potential loss. It could be around status, benefits, or more usually career and promotion opportunities. A senior lawyer told me recently that he didn’t think his firm were looking to make any more middle-aged, white men Managing Partners. Another man in the same demographic told me that they were the most out of favour group in the workforce.
  • The loss of comfort from being in a familiar environment where they feel secure, validated and successful. They may have to change their communication and leadership style and cut back on office banter.
  • Difficulty adjusting to a culture modelling different values,  and then wondering if they will still have a place or a voice in this new world.


Every day sexism

We saw the way a Ugandan politician snubbed Ursula Von de Leyen President of the European Commission, walking directly to shake hands with Charles Michel the President of the Council for Europe, and Emmanuel Macron the French President. It was Macron who staged a bystander intervention, directing Kuetsa back to Von der Leyen while Michel stood as an onlooker to the misogyny. Kuetsa had a brief exchange with her but did not shake hands.

Women complain regularly about the harassment and sexism they endure in the street, on public transport, in the workplace, and on social media.  Male allies such as Lewis Kemp CEO at Lighthouse Media, Kenneth Lang and Andy Foote regularly share how women are harassed and abused even on professional platforms such as LinkedIn.

Kemp endorsed the idea of fear “Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’ve never been able to grasp what these people find so threatening about women having careers and strong opinions.”

To use another analogy if our businesses are more successful  – it just means there is more donut for everyone. The hole and donut syndrome should be a thing of the past. Time to focus on the benefits.


 3Plus can help you improve your workplace culture with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.



Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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