Report: Most Companies Are 'Going Through the Motions' of DE&I
By: Kathy Gurchiek
February 23, 2021
Corporate attempts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are falling short, according to new research that raises serious doubts about traditional approaches to the business and social issues surrounding DE&I.
"Roughly 80 percent of companies are just going through the motions and not holding themselves accountable," according to the report, Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion.
The report is based on survey responses from 804 HR professionals working in a range of industries as well as interviews and one-on-one conversations about the findings with leaders around the world. JoshBersin.com, an Oakland, Calif.-based HR consultancy specializing in workplace analysis, conducted the research in partnership with Perceptyx, a global survey and people analytics company based in Temecula, Calif.
They mapped 84 DE&I practices to determine the five essential strategies and 15 practices that have the greatest impact on business, organizational and workforce outcomes across all industries, geographies and company sizes.
DE&I as a Business Strategy
According to the report, organizations tend to resort to legacy tactics of bias training, diversity recruiting, and programs that sometimes backfire and contribute to more division than unity. The survey found that:
"What we discovered is that DE&I training, recruitment practices, employee resource groups and many other DE&I interventions add value—but not as much as you may think," the authors of the report wrote. "In fact, our biggest finding is very profound. The most powerful strategies to drive inclusion and diversity come from the business strategy, not HR programs. When the business has the right focus, the HR practices add value. When done in isolation … the practices have little or no long-lasting impact."
The report cites The Coca-Cola Co. as a cautionary example.
"The company spent years addressing the issues of racial disparities in leadership and pay (driven by a class action lawsuit for almost $200 million in 2000) and made major progress pushing diversity," the reports states. "But despite the commitment from the CEO, the company's culture did not change, and today Coca-Cola is revisiting its entire 20-year effort to focus on inclusion and behavior change."
What Employers Can Do
Research from Together Forward @Work, an initiative from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), found that "despite years of financial and strategic investments in diversity, equity and inclusion, U.S. companies have notable numbers of workers who express concerns and discomfort about fundamental issues of racial equality in the workplace." SHRM's report stressed the importance of making listening a top priority for all workers, leaders and HR professionals.
The Bersin report noted active listening—and taking action based on what organizations learn—as the biggest driver of diversity, inclusion and belonging.
"It may sound simple, but the most complex issues in DE&I—what to do about Black Lives Matter, or a harassment claim or other complex social issues—are all being discussed by employees. Of the 80-plus practices we analyzed, the most important of all was to 'listen, hear, and act' on what employees want to talk about," Bersin said in a blog post.
He cited Goldman Sachs as an example. It held forums for leaders to learn more about barriers and challenges people in the company face and created action plans. When the employer heard managers wanted to learn about allyship, it created an Active Ally Action Plan that included a printable list of actionable steps.
Additionally, organizations whose DE&I efforts are successful:
Organizations that are most successful at fostering DE&I focus on making systemic changes. That includes, the report pointed out, operating DE&I "as a business function, not a set of HR initiatives, with a well-defined strategy that is owned by everybody in the organization and supported by capable experts."
"If you're looking at spending more money on DE&I, you may be better off promoting an internal leader into the job and spending time developing an inclusive business strategy and set of business objectives, rather than hiring a DE&I expert and then developing and launching a set of new programs," the report stated.
"Remember, the problem we're solving is to create a sense of equity and fairness in the company. These are management issues first, training and HR issues second."