Where have all the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs gone? If you’re noticing a lack of DEI focus lately, you’re not imagining things.
Monster states in its January 2023 Future of Work report that DEI programs “are among the first to go when [employers] are forced to cut costs,” behind company events and bonuses only. Glassdoor, Workhuman and other organizations researching the phenomenon concluded the same. Revelio Labs notes a recent 33% loss in DEI-related roles at more than 600 companies engaged in layoffs compared to 21% for non-DEI roles.
“Companies with the largest outflow of DEI talent include Capital One, Amazon, Applebee’s, Wells Fargo, Twitter, Nike, and Intel,” writes Fortune’s Ellen McGirt.
After assessing more than 500,000 C-suite hirings between 2019 and 2022, LinkedIn revealed that the hiring of chief diversity officers (CDOs) declined in 2022 after experiencing significant growth in 2020 and 2021. CDOs were the only C-suite position to experience hiring declines in 2022.
The disappearance of DEI programs in some cases has legislative undertones. Back in May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning public colleges and universities from spending money on DEI programs. Texas and dozens of other states are working on similar bills. As the Texas Tribune reports, The University of Texas System has paused all new DEI initiatives, and the Texas A&M University System has prohibited DEI statements in hiring.
But here’s the rub: Candidates and employees, for the most part, don’t want to see these efforts diminish. Monster found that about 40% of recruiters are hearing “more than ever” that workers expect to learn about potential employers’ DEI efforts during the recruiting process.
Most experts and researchers agree that DEI programs are losing steam primarily because they were, essentially, set up for failure or are poorly managed. Revelio Labs’ senior economist Reyhan Ayas says the phenomenon follows “last in, first out” logic. SHRM points out that the findings from LinkedIn, Revelio and others show that the knee-jerk pledge to impact change was not followed by genuine effort.
“If they weren’t invested for the right reasons to start when they created these positions and hiring, and it was more for optics, it’s of no surprise that they are removing these positions when no one is apparently watching,” Amy Hull, director and head of DE&I at Paycor, told SHRM.
A recent study by Lever provides a scathing examination of how this can affect the workplace:
“We wanted to know if DEI programs are working and how employees and employers rate the quality of these initiatives,” the company stated. What it found were conflicting viewpoints. About 80% of employers boasted that they provide communication about their DEI efforts during the hiring process and that 75% require DEI training as part of their onboarding experience. What a great endeavor, right? However, nearly half (48%) of employees surveyed who completed required diversity training felt it was just a checkbox on their company’s diversity goals. Around 50% also felt their race, gender, or ethnicity hindered them in securing a job, and many still felt the need to proactively hide their external qualities to avoid bias during the hiring process.
“As business leaders, we need to do a better job at not only fostering positive work environments but ensuring that candidates feel they can be their authentic selves throughout the entire hiring process,” says Jessica Green, SVP of customer success at Lever. “Companies can work to accomplish this by showcasing their commitment to DEI at the initial stages of hiring and then staying true to their word with their employment practices.”
The hard truth, says Revelio’s Ayas, is that “the diversity problem in big tech companies or high-paying industries has been around for a while, and even when companies want to make an effort to hire more diverse candidates, we know that it is not as straightforward or as easy as they would like it to be.”
DEI programs in and of themselves can’t fix things, especially when it’s not supported holistically, starting with the executive suite. A commitment to and culture that supports workforce diversity is the true foundation that candidates and employees are seeking. Need help thinking through your own strategy? The HT Group’s advisors are just a call away.