By Keilon Ratliff
Three years ago, companies all over the world issued bold commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But the 2023 Kelly Global Re:work Report shows that for many organizations, this commitment to DEI has plateaued: a sign of “DEI fatigue.”
This begs the question: Are industries moving backwards with DEI?
This new survey of 4,200 workers and 1,500 executives across nine industries points to a widening gap between the DEI goals set by organizations and the realities of the employee experience. Nearly half of the workers surveyed (43%) said they have experienced non-inclusive behaviors in their current place of work and 37% say they work in a psychologically unsafe environment.
Those experiences and a lack of follow-through on DEI commitments by employers is driving employee churn, with 62% of workers who said they were planning to leave their job within the year reporting non-inclusive behaviors.
Not only are DEI initiatives leveling off, but in many cases progress around DEI is declining. Only 22% of executives reported they have programs in place to support the career progression of underrepresented groups—a decline from 26% in 2022. The percentage of senior leaders who said they were holding open conversations about DEI dropped from 30% in 2022 to 21%. Nearly half of executives said that their DEI strategies only pay lip service to supporting talent from these groups and that company leaders are not active in creating an inclusive culture in the workplace. Perhaps most shockingly, only 16% of executives said their organization has a clear route for reporting discrimination at work, which is a decline from 25% a year ago.
35% of executives reported that a lack of DEI initiatives harmed their organization’s productivity and 30% said it damaged their brand.
A lack of leadership buy-in is astounding, considering that executives realize this DEI failure is having a negative impact on company performance. Around a third of executives reported that a lack of DEI initiatives harmed their organization’s productivity (35%), increased employee churn (35%), and damaged their brand (30%).
In a turbulent economy, recruiting and retaining talent is tough enough. A poor DEI track record makes it that much more difficult. The Kelly report shows a direct correlation between employee churn and the levels of DEI within an organization.
In organizations where talent reported barriers to employment or career progression due to illness, disability, or discrimination, 55% said they were extremely likely to leave. By contrast, only 14% of workers who said that their employers understood the needs of disabled/neurodiverse employees and their employers were proactive in offering adjustments when needed, said they were likely to quit their jobs.
In a talent market where job seekers value company culture as much as competitive pay, organizations that put the employee experience at the heart of their workforce strategies are coming out on top. Many TA leaders have taken steps to build DEI into their workforce strategies, including recruiting from historically black colleges and universities, and piloting programs to encourage the employment of neurodiverse job seekers, veterans, and candidates with non-violent criminal backgrounds. These organizations know that opening doors for historically overlooked talent groups can have a significant impact on talent attraction and retention.
Kelly’s recent workforce survey found that organizations that saw exceptional business performance over the past 12 months were more likely to nurture inclusive cultures. These “Workforce Resilience Leaders” were more likely to review recruitment policies to ensure inclusion (67% compared to 37%) and more likely to promote talent from underrepresented groups into senior-level roles (63% compared to 31%).
In organizations where employees reported barriers to career progression due to illness, disability, or discrimination, 55% said they were extremely likely to leave.
“Workforce Resilience Leaders” are more likely than companies overall to be focused on building inclusion, whether by listening to employees’ views, providing a living wage, or offering flexible and hybrid working arrangements. These leading companies realize that a focus on DEI not only benefits company culture, but also drives business performance.
“Workforce Resilience Leaders” who made DEI a priority were more likely to report that employee satisfaction and well-being improved over the last 12 months (55% compared with 40%). They were also more likely to report that employee productivity increased (69% compared with 35%).
DEI fatigue can be avoided when organizations lean into the fact that DEI initiatives have tangible benefits for employers, for talent, and for the community at large. Don’t shy away from recognizing the impact on business outcomes: Diversity drives better performance and supports workforce resilience in multiple ways, from enhanced problem-solving capabilities to reduced employee turnover and improved retention. In an unsettled global economy, a supported and diverse workforce is key to positive business outcomes.
Keilon Ratliff is chief diversity officer at Kelly.