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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

WEATHERING THE DEI BACKLASH: BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE STRATEGY FOR DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

2024-07-11 10:22

Dr Naeema Pasha

Blog, EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT, RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION, FUTURE OF WORK, HUMAN-CENTRED LEADERSHIP, DIVERSITY & INCLUSION, DEI,

WEATHERING THE DEI BACKLASH: BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE STRATEGY FOR DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

The surge in opposition to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives presents a significant challenge. Companies are dismantling DEI teams...

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The surge in opposition to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives presents a significant challenge. Companies are dismantling DEI teams, citing a lack of clear benefits and concerns about flawed data.

It's crucial to acknowledge that correlation doesn't guarantee causation. However, strong correlations can illuminate underlying trends. My own research, for example, identified a positive correlation between diversity and business performance. This correlation serves as a springboard, a catalyst for positive change, rather than definitive proof.

The current resistance to DEI stands in stark contrast to the undeniable realities of workplace inequality. Black unemployment in the US remains stubbornly high, at twice the rate of white unemployment. A significant portion of Black and Hispanic workers report experiencing discrimination on the job. The UK grapples with a substantial employment gap for people with disabilities. The gender pay gap persists, with women in the EU earning nearly 13% less than their male counterparts. Age discrimination remains another persistent barrier. 

Beyond correlation: a multifaceted approach to DEI

While correlation doesn't equal causation, dismissing the potential benefits of DEI based solely on this argument is shortsighted. A comprehensive approach to DEI considers a wider range of factors. Studies have shown that diverse teams are more likely to challenge assumptions, leading to more innovative solutions. Diverse perspectives can also improve decision-making by identifying potential blind spots.

Beyond training: fostering a culture of inclusion

Unconscious bias training programs have become a mainstay of many DEI initiatives. However, their effectiveness is a subject of debate. A more sustainable approach goes beyond one-off training sessions. It requires fostering a culture of inclusion where diverse voices are heard and valued. This can involve creating mentorship programs, employee resource groups, and open communication channels to address concerns.

The business case for DEI

The backlash against DEI often stems from a misconception that it's somehow at odds with business success. In reality, a strong business case can be made for DEI. Studies by McKinsey & Company might well have flaws - but are they all wrong? Many studies have shown that companies with diverse workforces outperform their less diverse counterparts. Increased innovation, improved brand reputation, and a wider talent pool are just some of the potential benefits.

Building a sustainable DEI strategy

The root cause of the DEI backlash likely lies not in the concept itself, but in its execution. Most people instinctively reject inequality. However, when economic hardship and personal experiences of discrimination collide with the perception of preferential treatment for certain groups, resentment can take root. We see this in the rise of political movements too around the world, who fuel not only anti-DEI sentiment but also potentially dangerous populist ideologies on equity. By treating inequity, we can see progress.

A fundamental human motivator is the sense of fairness. To achieve lasting change, DEI needs to be a central pillar of your organisation's strategy, not an afterthought relegated to the periphery. Establish a clear and unwavering principle: discrimination, unfair treatment, and unequal pay are simply unacceptable in your workplace.

Build your DEI strategy on this bedrock of fairness, aligning it with your company's core values and expected behaviours. Transparency is paramount. Clearly demonstrate how fostering a truly equitable environment benefits everyone. Nobody should feel excluded or ostracised, regardless of their background or identity.

This is the essence of the "Equity Effect," a concept explored in depth in our research. By dismantling the barriers that prevent equal opportunity and participation, we can unleash the full potential of a diverse workforce. This leads to a more innovative, creative, and ultimately, more successful organisation.

Addressing the backlash: communication and transparency

Navigating the current DEI backlash requires a nuanced approach. We must acknowledge the concerns about data and implementation while remaining steadfast in our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Here are some key strategies:

  • Data-driven decision-making: While acknowledging the limitations of correlation studies, commit to gathering and analysing data to demonstrate the impact of DEI initiatives on your organisation's specific metrics. This data can inform adjustments to your strategy and provide evidence of progress.
  • Focus on business outcomes: Frame DEI initiatives within the context of overall business goals. Showcase how diversity and inclusion contribute to innovation, improved customer satisfaction, and stronger financial performance.
  • Transparency and communication: Be transparent about your DEI goals, strategies, and metrics. Regularly communicate progress and setbacks to employees. Foster open conversations where employees can raise concerns and offer suggestions.

By adopting these strategies, organisations can build trust and demonstrate a genuine commitment to creating a workplace that is fair and equitable for all.

In conclusion, the current DEI backlash presents an opportunity to refine and strengthen our approach to diversity and inclusion. By focusing on the business case for DEI, fostering a culture of inclusion, and addressing concerns with transparency and data, we can build sustainable DEI strategies that empower a diverse workforce to thrive. This will lead to a more innovative, successful, and just workplace for everyone.

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References

https://www.cnbc.com/2023/12/22/google-meta-other-tech-giants-cut-dei-programs-in-2023.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/juliekratz/2024/03/05/are-companies-quiet-quitting-dei/

 

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