When It Comes To DEI, Pivot At Your Own Peril

Pivot on DEI at your own peril.
The tech slowdown, and fears of a broader recession, have led companies to slash diversity, equity and inclusion budgets. It's a short-sighted move.

Leaders are dealers in hope. They have an obligation to paint a picture of optimism because hope is what combats fear and despair, both of which are plentiful today. And the hope for progress, growth and something better is what helps businesses forge ahead.

When the tech recession arrived, it brought with it this significant trend: layoffs of employees of all types, but in particular a high concentration of professionals focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

At Twitter, the DEI team was decimated – shrinking to two from 30. Lyft has cut its team entirely as it struggles to maintain market share. Other Big Tech DEI pros have gone on record saying that bosses who previously paid attention to them have stopped checking in. The progressive goals that were a priority during growth times have seemingly been cast aside now that we’re in an era of leaner workforces.

As one DEI consultant observed, “These layoffs show some CEOs weren’t committed.”

On the surface, this might be understandable. If your company is struggling to survive, you may look at DEI and think the pendulum swung too far, too fast. And if this doesn’t add up to a business priority that clearly impacts profits in the short term, it’s likely some consider it expendable versus other potential areas for cuts.

But DEI isn’t a fad, and it’s not just a strategy meant to be siloed in your HR department. It needs to be an integral part of your mission. More on that in a moment.

Don’t focus on ‘DEI’

First, I think it’s important to note that lumping three words together in an acronym really does diversity, equity and inclusion a disservice. No matter what you might think of the acronym as a whole, “diversity” is just happening, whether you like it or not. The facts are that the world and thus the working world continue to become more diverse. This can and should be a strategic advantage for most organizations.

Why? For one reason, diversity is important to younger workers: Eight out of 10 of them say they’re more likely to take a job at a company that cares about it.

Perhaps more compelling, statistics show that greater diversity is synonymous with greater financial performance: Companies that have more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies where the percentage was lower. In fact, outperformance was 48% more likely among the most gender-diverse companies compared with the least.

Ethnic and cultural diversity also propelled results: companies in the top quartile for diversity outperformed businesses in the bottom quartile by 36% in profitability.

Given this, why isn’t there more traction for DEI initiatives when the business case seems so compelling?

In times of cost cutting, prioritizing resources and investments is a responsibility of leadership. I get that. But so too is the responsibility to create an environment to attract and retain the right talent, particularly when specialized workers are in such demand—and to show that the promises made during good times weren’t just performative, but real.

This should be done not because it’s the right thing for leaders to do—but foundationally because it’s the right thing to do for the business. And it’s the right thing not only for today, but importantly for the future.

That’s how Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture, sees the world. And her business is most centrally a people business. Sweet and others have seen the table stakes importance of DEI as a strategic business imperative. That gives me hope that many more leaders will do so in the near future and going forward, putting diversity, equity and inclusion priorities in place and keeping them there, embracing what will come, no matter what’s to come.

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