Adding to the many pandemic-related workplace disruptions, 2021 saw record numbers of people walk away from jobs at all steps on the career ladder. Whether prompted by requirements to return to a physical workplace, a need to take a break for caregiving at home, a reassessment of work-life balance, or just plain burnout, a record-breaking number of openings have appeared in a short window of time. By midyear this Great Resignation was making itself obvious in the headlines. By year’s end about 33 million people had elected to quit their jobs — that’s about 20 percent of all non-agriculture workers. As organizations reshuffle, will diversity initiatives remain a priority?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks this mass resignation phenomenon, reported in its “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary” that the November 2021 figure of 4.5 million people quitting marked an unprecedented high point. That trend is expected to continue at a slower pace in 2022. While slightly more than half the people who resigned do plan to look for another job within a year, according to a Bankrate Job Seeker Survey, their sheer numbers spell trouble for hiring managers worried about diversity retention as well as diversity recruitment.
After all, a number of underrepresented employees are inevitably going to be among those resigning, jeopardizing diversity gains for their employers.
Recruiters who were already struggling to find underrepresented candidates are suddenly grappling to fill jobs with anyone qualified, and there’s a widespread concern that diversity considerations are falling by the wayside. Many companies that were just ramping up diversity hiring going in to 2021 are now confronted with increased competition for all qualified job candidates, with underrepresented talent increasingly in demand.
Savvy managers are aware that this scenario can become a vicious cycle. As diverse employees leave and are replaced by non-diverse workers, the dwindling DEI numbers will translate to retention issues down the road among the diverse employees who remain on the job. It’s no surprise that the sense of belonging that is an important component of job satisfaction diminishes as a cohort shrinks. Then those remaining employees will think about leaving, and the cycle continues.
Many companies that were just ramping up diversity hiring going in to 2021 are now confronted with increased competition for all qualified job candidates, with underrepresented talent increasingly in demand.
Experts like Deputy Dean Nancy Rothbard and management professor Stephanie Cleary of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania are recommending that organizations avoid rushing to take on new hires that erode their DEI gains. “While there are many reasons behind the rising discontent,” they wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune, “there’s one important action companies can take to stem the unemployment tide: Create a more fair, inclusive and equitable workplace.” It’s important, they advise, to think in terms of long-term strategies rather than the immediate hiring crisis and keep in mind the many benefits of sustaining an inclusive workplace.
After all, diverse workplaces have been shown to have a competitive advantage. What’s more, according to the April 2021 CNBC|Survey Monkey Workforce Happiness Index, 78 percent of employees value working for an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion. DEI initiatives, then, translate into a more equitable workplace that will be well received by current and prospective employees across the board and customers who share the organization’s values.
It’s clear that diversity initiatives pay off in many ways, from the employee experience to a global competitive advantage. To find organizations that are not likely to let temporary job market swings like the Great Resignation interfere with their efforts to sustain an equitable, inclusive workplace, start with our list of Top 50 Workplaces. They understand that DEI is a strategy that’s key to progress in many areas of business focus. Great resignation or not, these organizations are leaders committed to advancing their DEI efforts and creating an even better workplace.
*More top workplaces among tribal and Native-owned enterprises will be featured in the Fall issue of Winds of Change.