It’s Time for Employers to Wake Up From Their DEI-Blurred Reality

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Over the past year and a half, fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace has become a top priority for many employers. This attention sparked much-needed conversations, debates, and actions. However, the journey has only just begun as more than half of employees  believe their company should be doing more to increase its cultural diversity.

Lever’s State of DEI Report  set out to understand diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) progress in the workplace. A key takeaway is that while companies are doing more on DEI, there is serious misalignment between employers and employees on the state of DEI. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts Are Underway

Companies report taking more action to move the needle on DEI. From Lever’s report, 60% of surveyed employers said they provided accommodations, opportunities, and tools for employees to succeed on their specific needs. More than half (51%) formalized a DEI strategy for their organization. In comparison, 42% have ensured job postings eliminate bias, 37% posted jobs in non-traditional outlets, and 36% have replaced education requirements with relevant skills and core competencies to increase ethnic diversity.

Companies are taking action to build a more DEI-focused workforce. It is a positive sign that strategies encompass all aspects of the workforce, from accommodations to recruiting. However, according to the report, employees aren’t convinced of these efforts.

The Disconnect Between Employers and Employees

Nearly all (97%) employers reported they had introduced new inclusion measures in the past year. However, a quarter (24%) of employees believe their employer has not introduced any new measures on DEI this year.

The discrepancies don’t stop there. 51% of employers reported sharing DEI updates with their employees through company-wide channels. Yet, less than a quarter (24%) of employees said this is happening within their organization.

There is a serious communication and perception gap, causing a disconnect between leadership and employees. This misalignment can halt DEI progress as employees are unaware of new initiatives, making it impossible to get involved or utilize inclusive resources.

To complicate matters, very few employees (9%) feel comfortable voicing their DEI concerns to senior management. Just 29% feel comfortable voicing concerns to their HR team. Only a third (33%) feel comfortable voicing concerns to their direct manager. Without an open flow of communication, employers can be functioning under a blurred reality, believing they are making DEI progress while employees feel very differently.

How To Push DEI Progress Forward 

How do we resolve this gap? Frequent communication, safe forums, and making DEI a collaborative effort are key. Employers should plan to share their DEI goals, the background behind the goals, progress, and initiatives more often and in more channels than might seem necessary. Repetition is critical in communication.

However, when employers compile these goals, they must be transparent and detailed in measuring DEI, utilizing data to create benchmarks and objectives, measure progress, identify areas of improvement needed, and ultimately make changes. This allows organizations to analyze DEI progress fully and track the DEI impacts in multiple areas of the company, from recruiting and retention figures to compensation to wider company surveys and more personal employee check-ins.

By tracking various metrics, employers can get an encompassing look at their progress and continuously identify ways to improve figures.

In light of the report’s findings on how unsafe employees feel sharing their real concerns, it is important for leaders to intentionally cultivate open channels for feedback, model vulnerability, and demonstrate through action that they take feedback seriously. Involve employees in setting and implementing the DEI strategy. Making DEI a more collaborative effort will generate greater alignment and enthusiasm and surface different perspectives that will help make DEI initiatives more impactful. 

DEI is not simply a box for employers to check; it is essential in improving retentionattracting the new and best talent, and enhancing financial performance.

Fostering DEI in the workplace takes significant planning and development and requires buy-in across an entire organization. It is a journey that has no “completion” date. There will always be room to improve, and processes and policies that work today may not prove successful in a year or five years.

To ensure employees are continuously feeling included, leaders must keep a pulse on their diverse workforce and revisit their DEI plan regularly, emphasizing achieving a shared reality between the employer and employees. Having an accurate DEI measurement and success gauge is the only way organizations can truly move toward a more inclusive workplace. 

Annie Lin is the VP of People at Lever.

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By Annie Lin