Survey Shows DE&I has taken a Backseat During the Pandemic  

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  • Company DE&I priorities took a backseat for many organizations through the pandemic
  • Only 16% of companies that prioritized DE&I before the pandemic report that it remains a top five priority now
  • There are a number of ways organizations can embed DE&I into everyday business practices

It’s been nearly two years since George Floyd’s tragic death precipitated an outpouring of public commitments from business leaders to address systemic problems that create inequitable workplaces. For example, big tech companies pledged billions of dollars towards fighting racial injustice while promising to re-examine their own internal DE&I practices. Companies tweeted promises made investments, hired consultants, and launched programs.  

However, as the pandemic enters its next phase, a recent study of 2,644 HR and compliance decision-makers conducted by Mineral and Toronto-based research firm ONR illustrates the progress and setbacks organizations are seeing in this area.

In early 2020, when the pandemic began, DE&I was increasingly an area of focus for organizations. In fact, our study showed that DE&I was a top 5 priority for 48% of respondents prior to the pandemic, along with organizational transformation and compensation design. Following George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, DE&I efforts became urgent for some organizations.

But fast-forward to today and only 34% of businesses now report DE&I as a top five priority. In fact, only 16% of companies that prioritized DE&I before the pandemic report that it remains a top five priority now.

So what’s happening inside organizations?   

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that DE&I efforts have flatlined, and while this is surely the case at some companies, it doesn’t tell the complete picture. Because efforts to elevate DE&I also come with a heavy burden of expectations shouldered by employees and can lead to burnout, savvy organizations have evolved their approach to driving change. 

One of the lessons learned in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder is that enacting long-term systemic changes that are critical to creating equitable, respectful workplaces conducted outside of the distinct “DE&I” banner can enable efforts to gain the traction needed to succeed. As a result, organizations may opt to veer away from launching splashy DE&I initiatives in favor of incorporating it into everyday business practices. Here are a few subtle, but meaningful ways organizations can more deeply ingrain DE&I into their culture: 

  • Make DE&I “business as usual”. Many of us perceive DE&I as a huge undertaking that requires “extra work.” While large enterprises can hire a head of DE&I and implement sweeping organization-wide changes, small-to-medium sized businesses don’t have the resources to do so. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t bake DE&I into everyday practices. For example, businesses can incorporate open discussions about DE&I in regular team meetings. Those meetings could be discussing an article or an experience that someone encountered. Managers should invite team members to rotate topics so that everyone has an opportunity to share. This doesn’t need to be more than a 5-minute discussion at the beginning or end of the meeting.  
  • Take a grassroots approach. Oftentimes, when companies implement new DE&I initiatives, they start from the top down. While leadership may understand the importance of prioritizing DE&I, their instinct may still be to farm the work out to another team member or consultant. Instead, consider taking a grassroots approach by starting with the employee base first. This could include encouraging employees to make DE&I a part of regular check-ins with their managers or making it a topic during team meetings (there’s no reason to wait until Women’s History Month to have a discussion about supporting women in the workplace, for example). Also, businesses of all sizes can create and foster Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), if they haven’t already. ERGs often provide employees with a sense of community that empowers them to speak up and engage with one another. In this way, companies can create a much deeper sense of DE&I learning that can create a groundswell of momentum. 
  • Incorporate DE&I work into employees’ everyday jobs. When DE&I becomes an “extra” part of peoples’ jobs, they get easily fatigued. Instead, consider making DE&I a part of employees’ job descriptions and acknowledge them appropriately when they hit their goals. For example, businesses could incorporate DE&I into employee goals or make it an agenda item in regular 1:1 check-ins. In this way, DE&I becomes a part of what an employee is already supposed to be doing rather than an add-on.  

While the survey shows that DE&I has taken a backseat during the pandemic, the key is to not get caught up in rankings and paying performative lip service. Instead make a concerted effort to embed inclusive practices throughout your organization.  

Survey Methodology  

Mineral partnered with ONR to conduct a survey of 2,644 senior HR professionals in the US through an online survey from February 4 – 24, 2022. Respondents were gathered through a mix of professional panels, Mineral clients and social media channels. Respondents were predominantly executive leadership and had significant knowledge and involvement in their organization’s HR function. Companies of all sizes were included, ranging from smaller organizations of under 50 headcounts through to enterprise-sized organizations. The sample composition was balanced between five sectors: Consumer Goods & Services, Energy & Resources, Financial Services & Insurance, Life Sciences & Healthcare and Technology, and Media & Telecom. 

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