Changes have been coming hard and fast to the world of work in the last two-plus years:
an explosion of remote work, a shift in employee expectations, the rapid rise of technology to connect workers. Amid all of those transformations has been an underlying theme: Employers are increasingly recognizing that, for innovation to flourish, diversity needs to be at the heart of the workforce.
Attention to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace has grown significantly alongside broader understanding of the role DEI can, and should, play in society. According to Gartner, more than one-third of employers surveyed said expanding DEI was a top-five priority for 2022. That pairs with employee expectations: A study published in the Washington Post this year found that more than 75% of job candidates and employees consider the diversity of a company when job hunting. Considering Generation Z is the most diverse generation to enter the workforce—and is empowered and motivated to seek out and advocate for inclusive environments at work—the business case for advancing DEI is crystal clear.
However, DEI for the sake of DEI won’t work. Rolling out inclusive benefits, encouraging pronouns in email signatures or upping donations to charitable social justice organizations are all great strategies—but if they’re not bolstered by a genuinely inclusive and equitable workplace environment for all employees, they’ll fall flat. And, ultimately, a DE&I strategy that doesn’t come from an authentic place will hurt the organization in the long run. A recent report from Korn Ferry on the state of DE&I in the workplace summarized the problem: “Change must be more than skin-deep,” researchers wrote. “Organizations must embed DE&I into their talent and business practices and processes. They need to change structures as well as behaviors, apply inclusive design principles and cultivate inclusive leadership capabilities.”
That sounds like a tall order—but it’s one that can yield significant returns for employers that do it right. According to research by Guild Education, when workplaces effectively transform to become more inclusive, they can see 56% better job performance, a three-quarters reduction in the number of sick days employees use and a drop in turnover by half.
Those outcomes won’t be realized overnight. As Korn Ferry noted, the DE&I transformation has to involve a deep dive—one that allows DE&I to connect organization-wide to the company culture. Diversity-related policies are just the start; recent research from CultureAmp identified a number of other initiatives shown to be effective at connecting DE&I and culture, including mentorship programs, advancement goals, recognition strategies and targeted sourcing and recruiting of underrepresented candidates.
Ultimately, DE&I goals and strategies should be incorporated throughout the overall business plan, with robust DE&I-related data being culled and utilized to inform the approach. Hiring a C-suite-level diversity officer to helm this work is a strategy many employers today are taking—but, regardless of which individual or team oversees the DE&I strategy, it should be designed and deployed in a way that aligns with the company values and mission. Doing so can communicate to employees—both current and prospective—that the organization authentically values and welcomes all individuals and can help make that idea a core component of company culture.