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5 Strategies to Infuse D&I into Your Organization

by Gena Coxa nd David Lancefield

There is broad agreement that diverse and inclusive workplaces are a good thing. These environments value all employees’ contributions and reflect the demographic characteristics of the available labor force.

Put most simply, it’s the right thing to do. Additionally, diverse and inclusive companies find and nurture the best talent, increase employee engagement, and improve customer willingness to buy.

But there is a long way to go. The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 was a clarifying catalyst that helped business leaders see the enormous inequities that have always existed. A year later, stakeholders (including current and prospective employees and customers) want to know if companies have lived up to the big promises they made last summer.

Historically, people of color have faced the following vast disparities in the workplace:

Lower-than-expected hiring rates. White job applicants tend to receive more callbacks than equally qualified applicants of other races. Hiring rates (the number of hires as a percentage of the total number of candidates) for Black and Hispanic Americans did not improve between 1990 and 2015.

Lower-than-expected representation in white-collar and leadership jobs. People of color are overrepresented in lower-paying jobs and underrepresented in top leadership roles. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are the least likely to be promoted to management and executive levels in Silicon Valley high-tech jobs compared to other groups. A total of 21 Black Americans have held Fortune 500 CEO positions, including the five who currently hold the top spot. Although the number of Hispanic Fortune 500 CEOs is increasing, they still represent less than 4% of those 500 CEO slots. There are no Black chairs, CEOs, or CFOs of companies in the FTSE-100.

Negative day-to-day experiences at work. Employees of color consistently report less-positive experiences at work than their white colleagues. About 31% percent of AAPI employees and 25% of Hispanic and Black employees experience stereotypes and bias at work. Black employees say they’re treated less fairly and get less support to advance. Black female employees feel less valued and less respected than employees of other races and ethnicities.

During 2020 and so far in 2021, many companies, including McDonald’s, Microsoft, Boeing, and Best Buy, made pledges to improve diversity hiring practices and introduce diversity and inclusion (D&I) training. The hiring of D&I professionals in general spiked, too; more than 60 U.S. companies appointed their first-ever chief diversity officer (CDO).

However, much of this work has not yet taken root. In one recent survey, 93% of leaders agreed that the D&I agenda is a top priority, but only 34% believed that it’s a strength in their workplace. In another survey, 80% of HR professionals viewed companies as “going through the motions.” In other words, they didn’t notice any significant positive impact from the organizations’ actions. Another survey revealed that while 78% of Black professionals believe senior leaders’ D&I efforts are well-intentioned, 40% hear more talk than action and have not noticed material changes to policies or culture. Meanwhile, many CDOs leave their roles because of a lack of strategic, financial, and political support.

It’s time for a new approach