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The Great Pretenders – Why Are We Seeing An Increase In Job Cuts Within DEI?

Written by: Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Gillian Jones-Williams

If you have been reading the press lately you will see that there is a huge amount of concern over the fact that organisations have been letting go of many of their Diversity Officers, sending the message that companies might perceive these roles to be non-critical in the plummeting economic climate. But is this really the reason? Or has this been a useful excuse for those who may have perceived it as a fad and non-essential to the bottom line to pull the plug on some of these activities?


group of young business people having a meeting in the office

As well as some of the huge cuts in the tech industry, some of the bigger organisations losing DEI roles in 2022 are Amazon, Applebee’s, Twitter, Nike and Wayfair. But not all organisations are citing economic cuts as the reason, some companies have even gone so far as to label DEI people as ‘woke activists’.


This follows a frenzy of recruitment for people in Diversity and Inclusivity roles over the last five years with a rapid rise in urgency since the Pandemic. Following the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 which really caused organisations to look at racial inequality and discrimination the topic has been high on the agenda for almost all companies. At this point many organisations had not even started to introduce D and I, let alone recruited someone to take responsibility for this area. We work with a huge number of organisations who are at different points in their journey, and we see many boards and Senior Leadership teams seriously committing to embedding an EDI strategy. However, we also come across many organisations where the D and I representative is totally committed and describes their ambitious, relevant and sustainable ideas but then are forced to add the words “but we have no budget”!


Ironically, there is no question that diversity plays a key role in the success of organisations, with a recent report by McKinsey stating highly diverse businesses were 36 percent more profitable than competitors with low diversity.


The debate is highly complex. Some would say that DEI feels performative and just satisfies the anti-racist agenda. Some would say that the problem seems to be that many of the DEI departments struggled to demonstrate to the board the bottom-line impact of their activities. In fact, it could appear that it was simply more and more investment to just ‘keep the staff happy’ and ‘be seen to be doing the right thing’. Not surprising really, as proving ROI on anti-harassment and anti-bias training is not easy as results are not tangible – you are measuring the absence of something, or even measuring something that didn’t previously exist. An organization may not have had many discrimination grievances (although one is often enough to be reputationally devastating) but following training these will inevitably increase. And quite rightly so. Someone who had been repressed and excluded for many years but had been afraid that if they spoke up would be ignored or even worse dismissed, could feel empowered following training to make a case. This doesn’t make good reading for board reports. There has been a great need to educate senior leaders about the impact that diverse teams can have, and it could be that this area has not had enough attention so leaders have not been aware of what could happen.


Adding to the melting pot is the issue that the different variety of well-intentioned interventions to bring more Women, Ethnic Minority, LGBTQIA+ talent into businesses and promote them to senior roles has also bought some criticism and suggestions of discrimination against straight, white men. Which of course is the makeup of boards in many organisations.


It also doesn’t help that some DEI teams also have been accused of disenfranchising established employees with well-meaning but misplaced mandatory training in tackling topics such as racial bias and privilege, particularly where the people delivering the workshops lacked subject matter expertise or lived experience. These topics need very careful positioning and, if not delivered in the right way, can sometimes do more damage than good.


So, it is no wonder that, when the economy slumps, roles in the DEI field are the first ones to be axed as they are not always viewed as imperative to business success. Yes, they can be integrated into the HR department or other roles but how much attention and time will people, who do not have designated DEI positions, really be able to pay to ensure the agenda is driven forward?


The damage that would be done to halt DEI activities if there isn’t a nominated person to drive initiatives forward is far more extensive than never starting the activities in the first place. If we take Women’s development as a starting point and the drive to get more women into senior positions, the damage would be irrevocable. According to WEF (Women’s Economic Forum), if we continue at the current trajectory for gender parity it would take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide. But what if we stop continuing at the current trajectory? And what about others who need support to achieve equity, people of different ethnicities, disabilities, sexual identities, the Neurodivergent and all other diversities who have been given a voice. What will happen if we remove the forums for them to use that voice? What message does that send? And the needle that is pushing far too slowly towards equity is going to become even more insignificant.


It will also hurt organisations as those that are not demonstrating true commitment to DEI will struggle to secure Gen Z talent – it has become a vital part of the criteria for this generation for assessing potential job roles.


DEI work needs to demonstrate that it is truly vital to the business and tackles the root course of bias, discrimination and oppression and that there is a consistent and sustainable message. It is like gardening, you can’t just have one major push to clean and tidy the borders it takes constant maintenance to upkeep it – DEI activities need to be consistent, otherwise they run the risk of looking as if they are just paying lip service to the area.


For DEI to be taken seriously and for bottom line results to happen, organisations need to come out of the shallows and implement deeper interventions, one-off Inclusion workshops will raise awareness but will not shift the dial. An example of a deeper programme that will really shift the views, attitudes and behaviours or senior leadership is a programme that we designed to follow up on the one off short workshop lasting six months where senior leaders explore in depth the topics of, privilege, micro-aggressions, intersectionality, terminology, lived experience, inclusive hiring, and each week they undertake exercises that help them to really explore the topics followed by monthly 90 minute zoom calls where they discuss their thoughts on the exercises they have undertaken and agree how they will flow the learning down to their teams. This ensures that there is an in-depth cascade.


We then need to ensure that the metrics and benchmarks, which organisations use to measure progress, are useful and relevant reporting practices. They really need to inform the attraction, retention, and development of talent. DEI activities need to go beyond compliance and looking at how to fix things short term and really focus on belonging – which means sustainable behavioural change that truly addresses the barriers to inclusivity and equity.


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Gillian Jones-Williams Brainz Magazine
 

Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gillian is Managing Director of Emerge Development Consultancy which she founded 25 years ago. She is a Master Executive Coach working with many CEOs and managing Directors globally. She is also an international speaker and in 2020 was named by f: Entrepreneur as one of the leading UK Female Entrepreneurs in the I also campaign.


Gillian founded the RISE Women’s Development Programme which is delivered both in the UK and the Middle East, and Saudi and is her absolute passion.


If you want to know more about our Diversity and Inclusion solutions please get in touch. We are working with many organisations on their Diversity and Inclusion interventions, strategies, policies and programmes. For more information contact us at 01329 820580 or via info@emergeuk.com

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