Do you have ‘diversity fatigue’? Here are 5 ways for businesses to get out of their DEI slump

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Gabi Thesing, Senior Writer, Forum Agenda

  • iversity fatigue is setting in and DEI (diversity, equity & inclusion) professionals are throwing in the towel amid a lack of support from company leaders.
  • The pandemic has set back inclusivity agendas, including gender parity, LGBTQIA+, racial and disability rights, say experts.
  • A new report highlights five ways to make companies’ DEI policy a success.

Organizations around the world have stepped up their efforts to create more diverse and inclusive environments. However, ‘diversity fatigue’ is setting in.

The term first surfaced three decades ago to describe stress in response to companies’ efforts to diversify their workforce, according to the Employers Council in the US. In more recent years it has included people feeling tired of talking about diversity, or the lack of it.

Recently, there’s been a raft of articles and blogs warning that DEI (diversity, equity & inclusion) risks sliding down organizations’ priority lists. Around one in six diversity officers at S&P 500 companies left their roles between 2018 and 2021, according to the consultants Russell Reynolds. The reason? Companies are dedicating insufficient time and resources to the DEI process, found one report, leaving DEI leaders struggling with the lack of support.

Many DEI leaders feel tired and discouraged as they need more from CEOs, executives and managers,” Ivori Johnson, director of DEI and belonging at HR technology firm ChartHop, told the Human Resources Director website.

COVID-19 stalled progress

COVID-19 was a watershed moment. “Since the start of the pandemic, there have been major setbacks in social and economic inclusion as economic vulnerabilities have been exacerbated and social and political polarization has grown,’’ Kweilin Ellingrud, Senior Partner and Director, McKinsey Global Institute, said in the foreword to the 2023 DEI Lighthouses report. “The events of recent years have shown that any progress made is easily reversible.’’

The DEI Lighthouse Programme was initiated by the The Global Parity Alliance (GPA) – a cross-industry group committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) – in 2022 by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, to identify initiatives that have driven significant, quantifiable, scalable and sustainable impact, and highlight what they have in common.

While the headline figures appear optimistic – companies are forecast to spend $15.4 billion on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)-related efforts by 2026, double what was spent in 2020 – actual progress is slow.

COVID-19 “has caused a generational loss in gender parity, for example, increasing the projected time to reach global parity from 100 to 132 years,’’ Ellingrud said. The report also highlights that racial and ethnic equity efforts remain fragmented, LGBTQIA+ individuals continue to face stigma and discrimination and only a small percentage of businesses are focused on inclusion of people with disabilities.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The Platform produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

However, the report is not all doom and gloom. It identifies five factors across DEI initiatives that had the most sustained impact. They are:

What works for DEI initiatives: five common success factors

1. Nuanced understanding of root causes

Understand the problem by identifying the root causes. Analyze the relevant data and insights from those most impacted. This often includes employee feedback surveys, focus groups and interviews. Use the information to identify company-specific DEI opportunities and help prioritize investment.

2. Meaningful definition of success

Define success by setting clear, measurable near- and long-term goals which will help with measuring the effectiveness of the policies. This helps to articulate a case for change – the rationale for why the organization is focusing on the effort and how it connects to the company’s values, mission and business outcomes – and motivates employees to act.

3. Accountable and invested business leaders

A deep commitment from executive management helps signal the importance of – and allocate the appropriate resources (budgets, expertize, timeline) to – DEI. CEOs and senior leaders need to make DEI a core business priority, act as role models and be held accountable for outcomes, not just inputs or activities.

4. Solution designed for context

Develop solutions that address the root causes and integrate any changes into key processes and ways of working. This ensures that impact is sustained. It’s also important to equip and encourage employees to contribute.

5. Rigorous tracking and course correction

Finally, measuring progress of the key performance indicators (KPIs) allows leaders to monitor progress and, if needed, adjust the approach to increase impact and accurately allocate resources.

These steps will help organizations create a more engaged and effective workforce that is better equipped to navigate and benefit from a talent pool that brings many different experiences and perspectives.

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