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With movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #StopAAPIHate, organizations have been put on notice for their lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. DEI in the workplace is not a new topic by any means—it has been around for years in various forms—but now DEI is not only table stakes, it’s critical to innovation and business success. So, you'd think that this has led to a roaring success of DEI action plans in workplaces across the U.S., right?

Not so fast.

Brands that were quick to jump on the DEI bandwagon are actually falling short when it comes to following through on those commitments. An October 2020 survey by Fortune/Deloitte reported that 96% of CEOs reported that DEI was a personal strategic priority. However, the same survey for 2022 shows that less than half (46%) of organizations have made their diversity metrics public, only 36% of organizations link DEI goals to performance, and over half of CEOs are satisfied with their DEI outcomes.

In other words, we've got a long way to go before DEI plans lead to organizational action.

DEI programs can lead to fantastic workplace cultures—but only when they are more than just performative window dressing for a brand. Let's dig into how organizations in the U.S. are doing with DEI initiatives and explore some ways organizations can start making DEI a priority.

DEI success means business success.

Social change has pushed companies out of their comfort zone and into the DEI spotlight. The question is—will they stay there? With the societal expectation that brands need to do better when it comes to DEI, companies that don't make DEI a priority will lose consumers and top talent.

What makes DEI efforts in the workplace such a great case for your organization?

Culturally diverse workforces have several advantages, including being more innovative, better at problem-solving, and more profitable. In fact, a recent study by McKinsey revealed that companies with cultural diversity at the executive level outperformed their less diverse competitors by 33%. Plainly put, businesses with greater workplace diversity achieve greater profits.

a recent study by McKinsey revealed that companies with cultural diversity at the executive level outperformed their less diverse competitors by 33 percent

But, it's not just bottom-line returns that diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts can improve. Diversity initiatives can also deliver a variety of advantages.

  • Hiring advantages—70% of job seekers consider a diverse and inclusive environment an important factor in evaluating companies.

  • Increased employee satisfactionEmployee perception of their employer's commitment to DEI can lead to better engagement and enjoyment with their jobs.

  • Better alignment with consumers71% of consumers prefer buying from companies that are aligned with their values.

  • Innovation and growth—People that work for companies prioritizing diversity are 83% more innovative. They are found to be more creative and more productive, which leads to better results.

  • Dynamic decision-making—Count on diverse teams to make better decisions up to 87% of the time.

DEI in the Workplace—Updated status or status quo?

Despite its powerful advantages, not all companies are all-in regarding diversity initiatives. Pledges often turn into broken promises.

While many organizations have developed DEI action plans, the data shows that these brands are doing so with varying levels of success in their actual DEI metrics. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, from 1985 to 2014, among firms with more than 100 workers in the United States, the proportion of Black men in management increased just slightly—from 3% to 3.3%. White women saw more significant increases—from 22% to 29%—but their numbers haven't moved since.

There are countless examples of DEI being overlooked in companies and throughout industries, from the gender pay gap to the lack of representation of people of color in leadership positions. Take the tech industry. Its leaders have been particularly vocal about its DEI struggles and made several high-profile pledges to do better, including commitments to diversify leadership, launch DEI training, donate funds to racial justice projects, and support black-owned businesses. But despite all the talk, the numbers show that not much has changed.

The status quo prevails.

young woman supporting rights

Big Tech made big DEI pledges but hasn't budged.

The tech industry is booming and experiencing record-level unemployment rates. So, you'd think this would reflect in the growth of DEI initiatives and hiring practices in these companies, but unfortunately, not.

According to a report from The Kapor Center and the NAACP, the proportion of Black professionals in technical roles at large tech companies increased by only 1% between 2014 and 2021. And, despite the need for tech talent and leadership, only 5% of technical jobs are held by Black employees, and Black executives make up only 3% of tech boards.

But if this is industry-wide, surely the Titans of tech are doing DEI better?

Not really. While there have been some improvements in transparency about diversity numbers, research shows big tech firms have fallen short in many areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Research on the biggest tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) shows that while women make up between 29 to 45% of their workforce, they only hold 1 in 4 technical roles at each of the companies reporting. And while established tech firm Microsoft acknowledged it was 20% of the way to its goal of doubling Black leadership in its organization, many Black employees weren't impressed and have argued this is too little, too late.

So, what about brands that report their DEI initiatives are going well?

Even when companies appear to have DEI efforts that are succeeding, it's essential to look at the big picture of growth, not just take their word for it.

Salesforce & DEI

Salesforce is well-established as a progressive company known for its equitable and inclusive workplace. It appointed its first chief diversity officer in 2016 and supplied a quarterly public update on its equality progress. But, while Salesforce has a target to have a diverse workforce made up of 50% of under-represented groups by 2023, the company has lagged. Since 2015, Salesforce only increased its percentage of Hispanic employees by 1.1% and of Black employees by 2.3%.

Ultimately, metrics matter, so it's important to be transparent regarding all elements of a DEI plan. Also, remember to invest in short-term DEI goals to stay the course with long-term ones.

a group of diverse coworkers collaborating together

Keep your eyes on DEI initiatives.

The tech industry is just one example of how even the best intentions of DEI can miss the mark when it comes time to take action. But, the lack of meaningful progress in DEI is showcased across all sectors and executive leadership. And it's surprising as we consider that only 6.6% of all Fortune 500 companies have women as their CEOs, and at top companies, only 8% of C-suite executives are Black. For brands to succeed in DEI, DEI can no longer be an afterthought or something that only gets discussed during a PR crisis—it needs to be a priority, starting from the top.

Given all the facts, strengthening DEI is a no-brainer, right? So, how can an organization invest in DEI in a way that brings about real change?

Do your DEI homework.

First, business leaders need to be informed to develop an inclusive culture that embraces DEI in the workplace. Concentrate on understanding the relevant issues, including the systemic barriers and discrimination that have led to biased norms in the workplace. Take an honest look at your company's DEI data to identify which groups are underrepresented throughout your organization, and zone in on opportunities for improvement.

Create a culture that supports workplace diversity.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion starts with the leadership team setting the tone for what is and isn't acceptable in your workplace. What does this look like? DEI-friendly workplaces—

  • Encourage employees to be their whole selves.

  • Promote an environment where everyone feels like they can give input and be heard.

  • Foster a sense of belonging.

  • Provide DEI training for all employees––not just those in management positions.

  • Build diversity, equity, and inclusion into the company's core values and mission.

  • Support employees when they experience bias, harassment, or discrimination in real-time.

  • Advance DEI with policies and specific programs that support DEI goals.

Ultimately, an inclusive workplace culture makes everyone in your organization feel comfortable, respected, and included.

Measure progress.

You can't succeed at something until you measure it. DEI is no different. Without data, you can't track your progress or identify areas that need improvement. Key performance indicators (KPIs) can help you do just that. DEI data can also help you benchmark your company's DEI progress against others in your industry or region. Choose a set of goals and establish metrics that make sense for your organization and then track how your entire organization is doing against those targets on a regular basis. Below are KPIs to consider tracking.

  • Employee and candidate demographics

  • Retention across departments

  • Employee advancement

  • Employee Resource Group (ERG) participation

  • Employee turnover

  • Leadership information

  • DEI spending

Build a fair hiring process.

Once you've established excellent company culture, it's time to build a workplace that reflects those values, beginning with how you recruit and hire your team. Focus on recruiting from underrepresented groups and increasing diverse talent. Take time in your talent acquisition process to build a fair hiring system, which may include—

  • Editing or rewriting job descriptions to remove gender-coded language.

  • Engaging in blind resume reviews to remove irrelevant candidate information (names, schools, etc.) which can bias the decision-making process.

  • Expand your recruitment process to job boards and events focusing on a diverse talent pipeline.

  • Ensuring your interview questions are DEI-friendly and not based on assumptions or stereotypes.

  • Diversifying your hiring committee to include people from different backgrounds.

Ask employees their opinions about your DEI efforts.

Finally, one of the best ways to brainstorm ways to improve DEI at work is to ask your employees what they think. They're the ones who experience DEI (or lack thereof) in your organization every day.

How do you get a pulse on what your employees are thinking?

You can start by surveying them anonymously on their DEI experiences. Feedback can be gathered through online surveys or an employee engagement platform.

Another way to get employee feedback is to hold DEI town halls or create DEI-focused employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that focus on DEI topics. They're a great way to build community and provide a way for employees to have meaningful conversations about their experiences with diversity, equity, and inclusion at work.

diverse group of coworkers speaking together

Prioritize developing a diverse workforce.

DEI initiatives continue to be a journey, not a destination. As you work to create a diverse workforce, keep in mind that there is no finish line. DEI is an ongoing effort that requires commitment from everyone in your organization.

But that doesn't mean taking the leisurely route. There's a critical need for global companies to shine a spotlight on DEI to ensure a fair and inclusive workplace for all. Make DEI part of your company's core values and ensure that everyone in your organization is held accountable to those values.

When diversity is weaved into your organization with intention and transparency, your organization can build an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.

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