Why Employers Can’t Afford to Dismiss DE&I Initiatives - Boardroom News & Leadership Insights

Why Employers Can’t Afford to Let DE&I Initiatives Go

With predictions of an impending recession becoming louder and louder, more companies are seeking ways to reduce expenses and protect their profits. Often, some of the first things to go are human resources programs like leadership and diversity training. 

Pursuing Genuine Diversity in Corporate Culture

Nearly three years after the mass protests that shook the U.S. in 2020 — brought on by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer — the country has made some progress toward healing from deep-seated racial divisions. 

Part of this healing comes from company-driven diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives, which aim to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to succeed, regardless of their gender or ethnicity. 

As companies see a greater sense of calm in their workforce, cutting back on DE&I programs can be tempting.

After all, businesses need to reduce expenses, and DE&I may appear to be less necessary than it was several years ago. 

However, we’re still making the case for DE&I. Here are several reasons why.

DE&I Hiring Takes Time to Show Results

When an organization initiates a new DE&I program, as thousands of companies have over the past few years, it takes time to see results. It isn’t easy to develop new hiring practices that favor diverse candidates and ensure that all qualified applicants get a fair shake in the hiring process. 

  • Job descriptions: These must be rewritten to ensure they comply with DE&I best practices. ATS systems must be reconfigured so they don’t accidentally kick out diverse employees based on outdated requirements. 
  • Interviews: Hiring managers must also be educated on interviewing diverse candidates and progressing those who demonstrate the appropriate qualifications to do the job. 

Most companies don’t have mass hiring events unless they open a new location or scale their business. So while diversity in the workplace may be increasing, the going is slow. New, diverse workers trickle into existing organizations, making a slight wave in a vast ocean.

With time, DE&I efforts pay off. The workforce will begin to reflect American demographics rather than being overly dominant in one ethnicity, color, or gender. However, in the meantime, companies must stick to their objectives and continue to welcome people from varying backgrounds.

If DE&I Initiatives Take a Back Seat, There’s a Real Risk of Reverting to Old Habits

The mass protests across the U.S. in 2020 had one rallying cry: equality for everyone, regardless of race or other demographics. People weren’t willing to accept politicians’ calls for peace — they wanted real change. Many made this demand known through ongoing demonstrations that sometimes grew violent.

If companies put their DE&I initiatives on the back burner, who is to say that they won’t see the same type of strife again? Typically, in a recession, the people who feel the most significant impact are already disadvantaged — often individuals of color. Financial turmoil hits their pocketbooks and makes it much more difficult to afford basic needs for their families.

People with the same qualifications as those of other backgrounds should have an equal chance to build their careers and care for their families. Companies shouldn’t stop their DE&I hiring and promotion initiatives simply to save a few dollars. If this is done on a large scale, it could have severe repercussions for small and large communities.

Unconscious Bias Is Real

Everyone has biases. Some people recognize their biases and can counter them when they arise.

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Others lack self-awareness and don’t realize when they’re acting in a manner that isn’t inclusive to others.

DE&I training can help executives, senior leaders, and employees understand when their actions fall short of inclusivity. However, overcoming a profoundly ingrained bias isn’t easy; you can’t simply attend a one-hour training session and adopt a new worldview.

Sometimes, people will never surmount their biases, no matter how much training they undergo.

That’s why continuing to push DE&I in the workplace is so important. While no one can be forced to change their opinion, repetitive teaching and education often lead to more favorable outcomes. Exposure to the experiences of people from diverse backgrounds can help people see things in a different way.

Over time, wounds heal and divides close. A more supportive workplace environment isn’t just good for business — it’s also good for people.

DE&I Expands Workplace Creativity

One thing is clear: your customers likely don’t fit into a tiny demographic box. Your company probably has a wide array of clients from many different backgrounds. When you embrace diversity in your organization, you can better serve everyone’s needs.

Diverse workers can identify solutions to issues that other employees may not see simply because they don’t have the same background. For instance, a significant problem among minorities is the lack of access to affordable, high-quality food. If you own a vegetarian restaurant, your Black or Hispanic employees might suggest opening a branch in a minority neighborhood where fast food chains dominate.

Hiring employees who don’t fit your traditional employee mold helps people to see from different perspectives. There will be less emphasis on the status quo and more room for growth. You may find that you have much higher levels of productivity and performance than you ever did before.

DE&I Leads to Better Cultural Awareness

As more companies shift from domestic to international operations, the need for cultural understanding becomes even more pronounced. At an increasing rate, business customers aren’t just Americans — they’re Filipino, French, Kenyan, and Chilean. Each nationality has cultural differences that can be at extreme odds with what Americans know.

You expand your cultural knowledge past your backyard when you have a diverse employee base. You become better attuned to the billions of people who fill the world around you, not just the few who live in your local area. 

Hiring people from diverse backgrounds makes for a smoother learning curve. If you’re already open to diversity, you’ll have the preparation to interact with people from other cultures and countries when it comes time to do so.

Cutting DE&I Programs Isn’t the Solution to Recession Woes

While a recession may be looming, that doesn’t mean it’s time to pull the plug on your company’s DE&I programs. Remember, staying prudent during a difficult time is critical. There are other ways to reduce expenses that won’t adversely impact your employees, customers, and general business operations.

Contributed by Cowen Partners Executive Search, a national executive search firm offering CEO and Board services to private, public, and non profit organizations.

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