Let’s Not Downsize DEI

Let’s Not Downsize DEI

Diversity and Equity Should be Strategic Priorities for Every Organization

 As a recruitment professional, I’m keenly aware of how strategic priorities impact the search for top talent, especially in the C-suite. The long-overdue implementation of critical policies to ensure hiring and development practices that reflect a commitment to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace had precisely this impact on executive-level recruitment. A LinkedIn study reported that the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer saw the fastest hiring growth of any C-suite title in 2020 and 2021: nearly 170%.

But the same study found that hiring for that very role declined by 4.5% in 2022. The data suggest a waning corporate interest in diversity programs, and layoffs of DEI professionals seem to be accelerating. According to an ABC News report, one in three DEI professionals were laid off in a one-year period ending in December. That’s a 33% attrition rate for experts working in the DEI space.

I recognize that a sluggish economy has prompted many organizations to eliminate jobs and scale back workforces, but this downsizing is clearly targeting DEI professionals. As the ABC report noted, non-DEI workers experienced a considerably lower attrition rate of 21%.

I continue to hear that a company’s most important asset is its people. I have to wonder why it is that, when belts need to be tightened, this most important asset is consistently impacted first?

The decision to downsize or eliminate DEI programs and professionals should alarm all of us. Ensuring that your organization invites diverse people to share their expertise and knowledge is, quite simply, good business. Transforming workplaces into inclusive spaces that are deeply committed to elevating and empowering diverse contributors and future leaders is a proven path to improving retention and attracting top talent.

There’s also ample evidence that diverse companies are more innovative and perform better. A Boston Consulting Group study of 1700 companies across eight countries found that companies with above-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues and 9% higher EBIT margins on average.

That means that companies that are downsizing DEI programs are losing a vital competitive and strategic advantage.

I’m advising my clients to ensure that they stay highly committed to strengthening their organization’s policies that foster inclusion and belonging for every individual. Conversations around diversity must continue, and we need to understand that a future-focused workplace welcomes diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and thought. Employees thrive in an environment where reasonable minds can disagree. That’s where innovation thrives, too.

In discussions with candidates, I want to know how they approach individuals who see the world differently. I’ve discovered that the people who deliver value for my clients—who jump in and immediately begin to contribute—are self-aware, curious, and always open to new opportunities to learn and grow.

A healthy workplace culture depends on that same determination to benefit from new ideas, new perspectives, and new knowledge. It’s a competitive and strategic advantage with a demonstrable ROI.

In a tight hiring market, it’s especially vital to implement and strengthen policies that prove that people truly are your most valuable asset. A commitment to diversity should be reflected in the C-suite, and in every level of your company.