In 2020, we saw companies proudly announce their newfound dedication to ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the race to establish a DEI department was on. Companies proudly shouted from the social media rooftop that they had hired a new ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ and advocated their commitment to being an ‘Anti-Racist’ company.
Annual and quarterly planning metrics included DEI scores. Office events were catered by black-owned businesses, and we heard diverse leaders speak about the struggles they faced along the way during company All-Hands.
Then, we saw fewer and fewer of these events take up slots in our calendars, and slowly but surely, the realization crept in that it had been 6 months since the last company-wide DEI effort. Soon, it would be a year. And eventually, we remember DEI efforts as something that came with a bang, left in silence, and that a company’s P&L understood to be a short-lived luxury that was sacrificed along with other company ‘perks’ like gym reimbursements or company-branded hoodies.
When the going gets tough, companies reprioritize. In this case, companies are reverting back to what they believe will create the most shareholder value (yes, we’re back to it all being about shareholder value. sorry 2019 Jeff Bezos). Leaders retreat to their comfort zones and rely on their existing networks and relationships, which means they hire and promote from familiar sources and neglect to seek out diverse candidates.
There is a consensus around the fact that we’re moving towards a recession because company leaders made mistakes in how they ran their businesses. Growth > Profit. Employee Perks > Revenue per Employee. However, there is also wide-spread consensus that DEI efforts and the resulting increase in diverse leaders at companies have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line due to improved innovation and creativity, expanded market opportunities and better corporate governance to name a few.
Despite the research that shows the positive impact of better representation at the highest levels, why do we seem more willing to listen to economic experts when they call for cutting unnecessary spending? Has the effort required of our leaders to prioritize DEI become too burdensome, causing us to view DEI efforts as optional and cumbersome when we return to the basics of business operations?
Just a demoralizing thought.