downward arrows representing DEI effort trends in the workplace

DEI Efforts in the Workplace Flagging Worldwide

Fewer organizations are pursuing DEI efforts since 2020, a recent DDI report found, but many have learned to ask more of their initiatives. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices flagged between 2020 and 2022, according to a new report, raising questions about companies’ commitment to workplace equity.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Report 2023, released last month by DDI, a leadership consulting firm, found that the number of global companies without a DEI program increased 33 percent, while the percentage of leaders endorsing their DEI programs decreased 18 percent. 

Stephanie Neal, director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research, noted that economic stresses between 2020 and 2022 may account for the drop-off. But organizations may also be starting to become more demanding of their DEI initiatives. 

Leaders probably aren’t seeing results unless they’re at organizations that have higher-quality programs.

Stephanie Neal, DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research

“There’s either increased skepticism or expectations have increased,” Neal said. “Companies have given so much lip service to DEI, and there’s been a lot of focus on awareness-building. But leaders probably aren’t seeing results unless they’re at organizations that have higher-quality programs.”

Regardless, that disengagement has an impact on retention of diverse leaders. According to the report, 49 percent of minority women and 46 percent of minority men in senior-level leadership roles say they expect to change employers to advance their careers; only 29 percent of non-minority men say the same. (The report included survey responses from more than 15,000 leaders and HR professionals from more than 1,500 organizations in 50 countries.)

Retention of diverse leaders, Neal said, correlates to DEI initiatives focused on diverse hiring practices. “If a leader was from a background that’s not the majority, or from a diverse ethnic or racial background, we saw that there was a much higher percentage of them, no matter where that company was located in the world, when they had those stronger DEI practices,” she said.

Perceptions of the success of DEI initiatives differ generationally, according to the report. Gen X leaders were more likely to express disappointment in DEI efforts, while leaders under 35 tend to be more optimistic. The report notes that “this may be an indicator that these Gen X leaders are frustrated with the slow progress they’ve seen over time, and may be feeling overlooked as many programs target younger workers.”

To address those issues, the report recommends that organizations develop proactive recruitment and professional-development programs, moving beyond lip service and building DEI into “the organization’s day-to-day operations and talent management systems.” If organizations return their focus to workplace wellness and other initiatives that were sidelined in the past two years, optimism may increase.

“Some of the skepticism we’re seeing toward DEI really has to do with disappointment in leadership for not continuing those great trends that they were seeing in terms of support of employee wellbeing and mental health, and supporting the practices that will help retain talent,” Neal said. “I think as organizations figure that out, and resist that urge to pull back to what things were like before 2020, we may see a lot more positive traction for DEI as well.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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