Diversity, equity and inclusion took center stage in the boardrooms and courageous conversations that took place at companies around the country these last couple of years. The focus was often on what companies can do to support social justice, how they show up for underrepresented communities and how they are evolving the demographics of their workforce. In 2022, that focus is evolving to support longevity, transparency and revamped corporate culture.
The sustainability of DEI initiatives is a pressing concern as a large number of companies have seen turnover amongst their DEI staff and past initiatives have failed to yield results on the scale that was intended.
The most pressing concern is creating a DEI philosophy, strategy and practice that puts accountability above all else. That comes down to action.
“Less talk, more action,” Randall Tucker, Chief Inclusion Officer at Mastercard (No. 5 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2021), said in a recent interview with DiversityInc. “There will continue to be a greater need for brands to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments and show progress is being made. I also believe that DEI will need to refine its focus on our commonalities rather than our differences, with humanity as a connecting force.”
To get us there, DEI leaders must play a powerful part in organizational development, culture, talent strategies and supplier programs.
“DEI leaders’ capabilities will need to be broader and deeper to navigate organizational complexities,” Tucker added.
An Eye on Longevity
Historically, a lot of companies have seen DEI policies come and go. They often lacked accountability and metrics that drove insight and the evolution of talent strategies. In some cases, there was no defined leader of these efforts, and they ultimately were short lived.
Additionally, they’ve often been focused on representation of various demographics, but not necessarily associated with addressing equity or the external circumstances that shape what those people are dealing with outside of the workplace. Few things brought this into focus like the police-involved murders that came into focus in 2020, but now we see the focus turning toward the environmental and social systems and circumstances that create the experience those people have.
This is something that employees have called out in the last couple of years and that candidates look for signs of credibility around as companies look to create DEI policies and initiatives that have some longevity. One of the ways this is being showcased is the localization of social justice efforts.
The markets that a business operates in are the places where they earn their reputation and build an employer brand. For larger national or international companies, broad, sweeping policies may be handy. But for smaller organizations, DEI policies that help their local communities overcome key challenges will build more credibility and feel more tangible to employees and customers alike. That community buy in will help drive the sustainability and longevity of your DEI efforts as people start to invest in your efforts when they see the organization showing up around issues they care about.
For big organizations, localization of efforts is equally important, however. The needs of your employees in your Denver office will not be the same as those based in your Miami office. Those people experience different environmental hazards, lifestyle demands and have different cultural concerns. Localizing your efforts, even around a specific issue such as local water quality, will go a long way to gaining buy in from people and thus make those efforts more sustainable over time.
The Emphasis on Belonging
Where DEI was once seen as a driver of representation, it’s now seen as a driver of change around what that representation means and how the voices of the newly represented show up in what the company does.
You don’t have to look much further than the titles of diversity executives in 2022 to see the shift, as the word inclusion is beginning to precede the word diversity in those titles with increasing regularity. Belonging is a word you may start to see more of in the coming years as more people distinguish it from inclusiveness.
Over time, it’s possible that the language of DEI may change. Diversity is sometimes seen as a representation standard while equity and inclusion can be seen as an effort to grant access and equality to people of color willing to assimilate into an organization that props up white heteronormative culture.
In this sense, DEI as it has been traditionally deployed as a tactic for leveling the workplace playing field has also, as an article from the World Economic Forum put it, evolved into a tool for assimilation in some organizations. As companies grapple with this and consider their commitment to the values that DEI originally laid down, they’ll have to consider the evolution of their language, initiatives, intentions and corporate culture.
Belonging, as it turns out, may be the centerpiece to a new age of efforts designed to deliver the type of social justice around the workplace that employees are hoping their companies will prioritize. Doing so may just create the psychological safety and trust in the organization needed to increase retention and productivity simultaneously.
Finally, being at the center of future efforts will help create not only employee loyalty, but customer loyalty as the public and new partners look to support and work with organizations ready to end the cycle of past wrongs. Given all these factors, DEIB might be the more common nomenclature for the work being done by diversity and human resource teams in the near future.
Corporate culture has been steadily evolving over the last 20-30 years. In just the last five, organizations have gone from focusing heavily on productivity to employee engagement, which then evolved to a great focus on employee experience. That evolution, combined with the human challenges of the pandemic and social justice movements, has created an environment in which how we think about experience is no longer limited to the work experience.
As organizations have become more aware of the mental health challenges their employees face, the conversation around their overall wellbeing has led to some companies becoming more conscious of their employees lived experience, from social challenges to healthcare access and environmental stressors.
The next phase of evolving DEI policy will be acutely focused on these factors and look to ingrain a bit more humanity in corporate cultures that have often felt hollow or cold when it came to delivering on the promises on DEI.
“You need to experience healthy relationships in your everyday life to truly feel a sense of wellbeing and that extends to the workplace,” said David Rodriguez, former Chief Human Resources Officer at Marriott. “It also extends to everyone’s need to be part of something bigger than themselves and a company’s citizenship in the world and feeling proud of your company is an important part of wellbeing.”