The killing of George Floyd in May of 2020 sparked widespread protests and a renewed global conversation about racial injustice. In response, many companies implemented Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) initiatives within their organizations, and DEI&B job listing rose by more than 123 percent in 2020. These initiatives aimed to address systemic racism, promote diversity, and create more inclusive and equitable workplaces.

Organizational DEI&B initiatives

Here are some initiatives companies took to establish and implement DEI&B initiatives.

  • Leadership commitment: Companies started by making public commitments to DEI&B, often accompanied by statements from senior leadership expressing the organization’s dedication to creating a more inclusive environment.
  • Diversity goals: Many organizations set concrete diversity goals, aiming to increase the representation of underrepresented groups, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities, at all levels of the company, including leadership positions.
  • Hiring and recruitment practices: Organizations revisited their hiring processes to reduce bias and increase diversity. They implemented candidate scorecards, diverse interview panels, and partnerships with organizations to connect them with a more diverse talent pool.

Related blog from Aleron Group partner Acara Solutions: 8 Hiring Strategies for Workplace Diversity

  • Training and education: Companies aimed to raise awareness and foster a more inclusive workplace culture by offering diversity training and education programs to employees, focusing on topics such as unconscious bias, microaggressions, and cultural sensitivity. They also implemented cultural competency training to help employees understand different backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Inclusive policies and practices: HR and legal departments reviewed and updated their policies to ensure they were inclusive and equitable, including parental leave policies, flexible work arrangements, and accommodation policies for individuals with disabilities.
  • Pay equity analysis: Many companies conducted pay equity analyses to identify and rectify any disparities in compensation based on gender, race, or other factors.

    Related blog from Aleron Group partner Broadleaf Results: How to Introduce Pay Transparency to Help Close the Gender Pay Gap
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): ERGs, also known as affinity groups, were established or strengthened to provide spaces for underrepresented employees to connect, share experiences, and advocate for change within the company.
  • Mentorship and sponsorship programs: Mentorship and sponsorship programs were introduced to support the professional development of underrepresented employees and help them advance in their careers.
  • Supplier diversity programs: Companies worked on diversifying their supplier base by partnering with minority, women, and LGBTQ+-owned businesses.
  • Transparency and accountability: Organizations shared regular updates on the progress of their DEI&B initiatives, demonstrating transparency and accountability to their employees and stakeholders.
  • Listening and feedback: To understand the needs and experiences of their diverse workforce, companies encouraged open dialogue and employee feedback through annual and pulse surveys, town halls, and focus groups.

A shift in momentum

Over three years later, only 6 percent of organizations feel DEI&B is at the expert level, intertwined in their culture, and linked to their strategic goals. Why are employers struggling to maintain the momentum of their diversity and inclusion initiatives and goals? Some common reasons include:

  • Limited resources: Diversity initiatives require dedicated resources, both in terms of budget and personnel. Mass layoffs affected DEI-focused roles (nearly 40 percent) much more than non-DEI roles (24 percent). Human resource professionals are often responsible for DEI&B but spend just 20 percent or less of their workweek on DEI&B-related work. When HR departments are not allocated the necessary resources, they cannot plan and implement initiatives effectively.
  • Waning leadership commitment: DEI&B is not just an HR issue. Diversity initiatives can struggle to gain traction without top leadership’s visible and genuine commitment. When leaders do not continuously prioritize diversity, it sends a message that these efforts are not integral to the organization’s success.
  • Resistance to change: Some employees or leaders may resist diversity initiatives due to fear of change, misunderstanding of their purpose, or concerns about preferential treatment. Existing workplace culture and norms can create obstacles to change, and introducing and sustaining diversity initiatives can be difficult if the culture is not inclusive.
  • Lack of accountability: Only 54 percent of men and 52 percent of women believe their company holds itself accountable to DEI&B. When a company doesn’t hold itself accountable, negative consequences can impact the organization and its employees.  
  • Unconscious bias: Among Chief Diversity Officers, 76.1 percent are filled by White employees, with Black (3.8 percent), Asian (7.7 percent), Hispanic or Latino (7.8 percent) ethnicities in the minority. Unconscious bias among decision-makers can affect the selection and implementation of initiatives, leading to choices that are not truly inclusive.   
  • One-size-fits-all approaches: Diversity initiatives must be tailored to the organization’s and its workforce’s specific needs. Generic, cookie-cutter approaches may not address your company’s unique challenges and opportunities, setting you up for failure.

Maintaining momentum

To keep diversity initiatives moving forward and avoid stalling:

  • Set clear goals: Define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for your initiatives.
  • Adopt a data-driven approach: Using data to identify gaps and areas for improvement can guide the development of targeted initiatives that address specific challenges. 
  • Allocate resources: Ensure your HR department has the budget, personnel, representation, and tools to support these initiatives effectively.
  • Communicate effectively: Clearly communicate diversity initiatives’ purpose, goals, and benefits to all employees.
  • Hold leadership accountable: Aligning diversity initiatives with the organization’s business objectives reinforces their importance and can drive organizational buy-in. Hold leaders and managers responsible for the progress and integration of diversity efforts into their departments. When workers feel their employer is held accountable to DEI&B goals, they are two times more likely to feel included, be engaged, and remain at the company.  
  • Spread diversity throughout your organization: Layoffs often disproportionately impact women and workers from diverse racial backgrounds due to the lack of equitable representation across different levels of organizations. This is less likely to occur when diversity is spread throughout all levels of your organization.  
  • Empower employees: Empower employees to be part of the solution by fostering an environment where they can voice concerns, offer suggestions, and participate in decision-making.
  • Celebrate progress: Acknowledge and celebrate successes along the way to maintain motivation and momentum.
  • Continuously evaluate and stay adaptive: Regularly assess the effectiveness of initiatives and make adjustments based on feedback and outcomes to ensure that efforts remain relevant and impactful. Be open to learning from successes and setbacks, and be prepared to adapt strategies as needed.
  • Form partnerships: Collaborating with external organizations, consultants, and experts in diversity and inclusion can provide valuable insights and guidance.

Related: 7 Ways AI Can Improve DEI&B at Your Startup

The journey of advancing DEI&B initiatives has been marked by significant achievements, yet not without its share of challenges. Efforts to address systemic racism, enhance diversity, and create more inclusive workplaces have yielded remarkable progress. However, limited resources, leadership commitment disparities, resistance to change, and unconscious bias threaten to impede sustained momentum. Organizations that navigate these challenges and advance their DEI&B initiatives will benefit from stronger employee engagement, heightened innovation, better decision-making, higher worker retention rates, and a more positive employer brand.  

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