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5 Ways Diversity and Inclusion Changed in the Last Year

July 06, 2021 Employee Experience
scott clark
By Scott Clark

Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) initiatives are playing a growing role in enterprise transformation. Social justice movements pushed companies across industries to think more deeply about their role in society. The pandemic caused a rapid shift in corporate values and social responsibility as workers struggled to deal with the fallout from government-mandated lockdowns and the resulting job losses. 

Anecdotal evidence indicates a resulting surge in hiring for diversity roles at companies across industries. That said, the move to a hybrid workplace has shifted priorities and is having an effect on DEIB. Companies have had to take a closer look at their corporate social responsibility statements along with their DEI policies and community investment initiatives. Yet, even with a renewed focus on DEIB many workers are still feeling left out, in greater numbers and with worse effects since the pandemic began.

While just over half of employees (53 percent) rate their workplace DEIB culture as “healthy” and 52 percent believe their company is committed to inclusion, there is still work to be done, according to a May 2021 report on workplace culture and inclusion from training company Emtrain.

Their survey of 83,000 employees at 100 companies showed that 58 percent of employees do not feel their employer has clearly defined its diversity and inclusion goals. More than two-thirds (67 percent) believe their company’s leaders should be doing more to make them feel included and can do a better job at creating a sense of belonging.

Those polled are also not feeling the sense of inclusion that most companies profess to create; three in five employees don’t feel they can be their authentic selves in their workplace. 

Even with the heightened focus on diversity and inclusion, the report indicates relatively few companies are actually making progress. This is important not just because it is the right thing to do by employees. It's also an essential part of their business. Companies cannot hope to grow and evolve without embracing DEIB right now. 

Yes, There Has Been a Surge in DEIB Hiring

The public dialogue and increased attention on DEIB has pushed companies to focus on enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion through their hiring practices, said Lexy Martin, head of research at Visier, a workforce analytics solution provider.

“Organizations have recognized that in order to create a diverse and inclusive workplace, focusing efforts on promoting equitable opportunities to new and varied talent pools is critical," Martin said. "While public awareness and social impact played a role in the last year, recognition of the value gained through DEI has been the true catalyst for change.”

Companies are also stepping up hiring of chief diversity officers and other management roles tasked specifically with DEIB. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, and professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, said LinkedIn data does indeed seem to indicate a surge in hiring for diversity management roles across many industries. This trend also reflects the evolving sophistication of DEI practices in companies.

When diversity work first became an area of organizational concern, it was mostly focused on demographic diversity, such as gender and race, he said. “In many ways, efforts were largely limited to adding pictures of demographically diverse people to company websites," Chamorro-Premuzic said. "But shortly thereafter, organizations understood that a., there is more to diversity than demographic categories, b., a key goal for organizations should be to unlock cognitive or psychological diversity (diversity in how people think, feel and act), and c., diversity without inclusion backfires.”

It's simply not enough to attract and hire diverse candidates. Once onboard, those workers must feel included in order to create the conditions needed for them to thrive, he said.

“All this calls for specialized D&I leaders, and what started as a relatively tokenized and minor HR role has thankfully turned into the most interesting and influential area of talent management," Chamorro-Premuzic said. "Today, the discussion around D&I, or DEIB, has matured to the point that chief DEIB officers need to understand a wide range of complex topics such as ethics, fairness, the widespread use of new technologies such as AI, and, of course, inclusive leadership.” 

Related Article: DEIB Technology Is Evolving to Meet the Moment

Gender Identity Is Part of DEI

Companies must continue to evolve their DEI policies and should recognize that diversity means more than just racial or ethnic identity, said Casey Welch, co-founder and COO at Tallo, a site that matches users with post-secondary educational institutions and companies.

Gender identity and expression are in fact top of mind for many members of Gen Z, the generation of people born after 1996 who are now entering the workforce. “Many employers are failing to recognize that,” he said. 

Often, it begins by simply asking prospective employees if they identify as he, she, or they. “88 percent of Gen Zers agree that it’s important that recruiters or potential employers ask people about their gender pronouns, but only 18 percent have ever been asked about their gender pronouns by a recruiter or potential employer," Welch said. "This leaves room for companies to separate themselves from 82 percent of employers by simply asking candidates to identify their pronouns.” 

This isn't just a matter of personal preference. Companies that want to attract top talent need to remain focused on DEIB. “Employers need to start looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion as a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have,’ as a lack of these initiatives will result in a lack of interest from Gen Z candidates," Welch said. 

A Tallo survey asked Gen Zers what they would do if a recruiter failed to use their correct pronouns and 25 percent reported that they would decline the job offer, he said.

Additionally, IBM recently released a study that revealed that 45 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people polled indicated that their employer discriminates against people who share their sexual orientation. Also troubling is that LGBTQ people continue to be underrepresented on executive teams in the United States. Only 7 percent of senior executives are LGBTQ. 

Related Article: Now Is the Time to Redesign the Future of Work

DEI’s Role in Digital Transformation

Once companies understand the importance of representation, that is, being truly diverse and inclusive with equity for all, all types of business and digital transformation will become more meaningful and more impactful.

“Right now, it’s no secret that most industries are still struggling with advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels within companies," Welch said. "Bringing diverse voices to the table at every step will create a better product, a better company, and a better work environment."

Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is about talent rather than technology, Chamorro-Premuzic emphasized. “Anybody can invest in tech, but for every dollar you spend on tech, you need to spend nine to upskill and reskill people,” he said. 

Often, the challenge is getting leaders to understand why they should be interested in investing in DEI, because for many it’s not obvious.

“Just like our grandparents may not care about the latest iPad even if we buy it for them, the old guard or traditional portion of the status quo in any firm or organization will have little incentive to embrace new and disruptive technologies,” said Chamorro-Premuzic. “So, the only solution is to empower and unleash a new generation of workers, especially people who are young, digitally savvy, and likely to bring different ideas and attitudes to the mix, so that the culture can evolve and enable the right technologies to modernize business.” 

More often than not, the solution comes not from getting the old guard to embrace diversity but rather putting a different generational mindset in place. “When it comes to digital transformation, progress depends on radical changes in how leaders think and act, and while some people may develop the right mindset to adapt to the new world of tech, it is often easier to promote a new generation of leaders who think along the lines of 2021 rather than 1971,” Chamorro-Premuzic said. 

Related Article: Breaking Down the Myths of Digital Transformation

The Pandemic Directly Affected Women in the Workplace

Although the pandemic has affected everyone in the workplace, it has disproportionately affected women, especially mothers, women in senior roles, and African American women. According to the results of Visier’s recent survey of 1,000 women-identifying employees in the United States, 56 percent indicated that the pandemic has set back their career progression. 

Women have also been impacted by having to take on additional caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 crisis, with the result that their careers are suffering. Seventy percent of women that are working full time reported imbalanced caregiving responsibilities, and 36 percent have considered dropping out of the workforce entirely. The situation is even more dire for female managers. More than half (52 percent) have considered quitting work entirely since March 2020. 

“The rise of remote and hybrid work has brought new challenges, and heightened barriers in place, for women in the workplace," Martin said. "Despite differences in dependent status, one thing is clear: Without the parity, support and recognition they need from their organizations, many women are questioning if their roles are worth it — putting added strain on efforts to hire and retain female employees."

Before the pandemic changed priorities, representation of women in leadership roles was increasing. A year later as the pandemic is waning, all of that progress is at risk.

Hybrid Work Creates New DEIB Challenges

The remote and hybrid workplace has brought many good things to employees but as far as DEIB goes, it has had a propensity to cause problems for those who continue to work remotely.

“Hybrid is a big threat to DEI interventions, which we have already seen in the past year,” said Chamorro-Premuzic. “When the cake gets smaller, only those who have power get to eat. And less skilled, female and underprivileged workers have had to juggle with higher job instability, as well as higher increases in domestic and unpaid work during the pandemic.” 

Although in theory the hybrid workplace should result in more flexibility for all, the reality is that those who continue to work remotely may miss out on crucial face-to-face interactions that play a large role in corporate work politics.

“When there are implicit or explicit rewards to return to business as usual, come to the office, partake in in-person meetings, manage impressions through presenteeism and politicking, those who are left to work from home will miss out on career advancement opportunities and be regarded as tier 2 workers,” said Chamorro-Premuzic. 

Companies must once again take a more proactive role in supporting gender equity and prioritize representation of women in leadership and managerial positions. Additionally, a policy of flexibility will provide women with the ability to continue to be in the workforce at the same time they play the role of caregiver.

“Unless organizations think hard about how to include and engage those who are still struggling with the surplus of demands generated by the pandemic, they will enhance rather than decrease privilege differences between the elite and the rest,” he said.

Caring leaders who are paying attention to these effects is an important factor, but it's not enough, said Martin.

“When we asked all respondents what factors would make them consider leaving the workforce, their No. 1 answer choice was if a promotion required a significant amount of more work or hours,” she said. “This suggests the additional support roles women have assumed in the home and/or at work are unsustainable — underlining the need for critical benefits that support women in the workplace, whether they work at home, in the office or a combination of both."

Flexible scheduling is the primary way employers are working to retain women along with onsite childcare, she added.

The pandemic, along with an increased awareness of social justice, has caused many companies to rethink how they approach diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. The rapid shift in values and social responsibility caused a surge in DEIB hiring as more companies took a stand on social issues. That, along with gender identity and equality playing a larger role in policies, and the unequal effect of the pandemic and remote work on women in the workplace, should push companies to recognize the impact that DEIB initiatives can have in the workplace.


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