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DEI at work: It’s time to take a deep dive

This is the first in a series of excerpts from our survey report titled All roads lead to diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace. But which one do you take?, published in January 2021. Nearly 800 business and HR professionals filled out the 30-question survey, resulting in numerous compelling insights both for business and recruitment interests.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

DEI at work

It’s been a challenging time in so many different ways. COVID-19, highly publicized police shootings of Black individuals, and the politically charged climate in the United States especially stand out. Amidst all this is a considerable spike in awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as a crucial topic. For many, recent events merely amplified long-standing issues around DEI and brought to light the challenges that hinder progress for DEI at work.

In this chapter, we address the following questions:

  • What are the biggest DEI workplace trends?
  • What are the biggest challenges in DEI at work?
  • How do you take action on it?

Being a natural extension of society, the workplace is affected as well. So, we surveyed a wide range of HR and business professionals near the end of 2020 to better understand the status of DEI right now in companies, what the priorities are at this point in time, the subsequent action items and goals, and the challenges that hinder DEI progress at work. Nearly 800 completed the survey.

Major takeaways on DEI at work include the following:

  • A combined 63% of respondents list DEI as a priority in their organization, whether it’s some initiatives in place or a permanent part of their mission, vision, and values.
  • An additional 17.6% say they’re interested – but either haven’t started or don’t know how to start.
  • 22.4% of those in Manufacturing said they are interested, but don’t know where to start.
  • A combined 23.6% of respondents say they started considering DEI in their business strategy in 2020.
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  • A near-unanimous 96.7% of females say DEI is personally important to them – while 12.3% of males say it is not.
  • 28.8% of those in entry-level / individual contributor jobs think executives, directors and managers should own DEI progress, compared with 22% of the latter who think the same.
  • Moral obligation is a top motivator in prioritizing DEI in a company, according to 50.6% of respondents. The other traditional motivators – business case and compliance – lag far behind.
  • Buy-in, lack of diverse talent pool, and know-how are major challenges to DEI at work.

We identified four major themes from the survey results:

The democratic driver

The prioritization of DEI at work is largely a response to an amplified call for action at the grassroots level, especially from employees.

We talk, but can we walk?

While the voice for DEI at work is clear and largely unified, there are disconnects in who should be leading it and how.

The gender division

There are stark differences in responses by gender identity – particularly in terms of personal opinion and perceived progress.

Talent pool isn’t broad enough

For many respondents, talent availability is a major limiter in diversifying a workforce – this is especially the case in Manufacturing.

In short, there are optimistic – and very much actionable – lessons here that will help reconcile the chasm between “talking the talk” and “walking the walk” when establishing a tangible and sustainable DEI strategy in your organization.

We hope you find our survey results on DEI at work to be helpful to you both professionally and personally. Any thoughts or questions, please feel free to share them with us via Twitter, LinkedIn, or direct email (with “DEI report” in the subject heading). We want to hear from you!

Check out the other excerpts from our survey report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion:

2. What does DEI mean for you and your business?
3. Is there meaningful progress in DEI? Depends on who you ask
4. DEI leadership – and who’s actually doing the work?
5. Your DEI strategic plan: The road is fraught with hurdles
6. What are your top DEI initiatives for the workplace?
7. Your DEI recruitment strategy: What are your action items?
8. Time for a DEI action plan: We’ll help you get there

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