Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives are essential for correcting historical injustices, improving marginalized groups’ well-being both in and out of the workplace, and optimizing organizational performance.
Over the past few years, organizations have increasingly come to appreciate the moral and organizational reasons for devising and implementing DEIB programs. According to one report, 89% of companies have a formal DEI strategy, and 79% plan to raise their DEIB budgets in 2022.
Given the widespread organizational commitment to DEIB, one might expect to see this reflected in employees’ perceptions of leadership support for DEIB. To test whether this is the case, Wellable asked the large, growing, and dedicated community of human resources professionals, wellness practitioners, and organizational leaders subscribed to the Wellable Newsletter whether they feel there is adequate leadership support for their organization’s DEIB initiatives. Forty-four percent said they think there isn’t.
Question: Do you feel there is adequate leadership support for your organization’s DEI initiatives?
Resolving this gap is critical. One of the main points of DEIB initiatives is to help underrepresented groups feel more comfortable, safe, and welcome in the workplace. This is unlikely to happen if employees feel their leaders aren’t providing enough support for DEIB initiatives. To make matters worse, workers who aren’t already in favor of DEIB may remain unlikely to change their views if they sense low levels of support from leadership. Therefore, making significant advancements in workplace DEIB depends on the perception of high levels of support from leadership.
There is also a disconnect with leadership and the broader employee base. The vast majority of employers feel like they have a formal strategy and are investing more in DEIB. This conflicts with the perception of employees.
Why Employees May Feel Leaders Don’t Support Their DEIB Initiatives
To help employees feel their leaders are truly behind their DEIB initiatives, they must first understand why their efforts aren’t being interpreted as they intend.
Reason #1 – Lack Of Visible Concern And Involvement
Employers must send the message that they truly care about DEIB in general and the specific DEIB initiatives in their workplace. There are several steps employers can take to accomplish this.
- Publicly articulate an authentic commitment to DEIB: Employees are unlikely to feel their leaders support their DEIB initiatives if they haven’t demonstrated a sincere and vocal commitment to it. Employers must announce their dedication to DEIB both internally and publicly to address this. Employees may think that leaders who only declare their support of DEIB within the walls of their organizations are either insincere or fear the negative consequences of making their support known to anyone outside of the company.
- Get involved in DEIB strategy development: While sincere and visible commitments are necessary, they are not sufficient for generating strong perceptions of leadership support for DEIB. In addition, leaders must be actively involved in DEIB discussions and strategizing. Getting involved requires caution. On the one hand, employees may feel they can’t freely discuss their concerns about DEIB in their organization with their boss right beside them. On the other hand, if employers are not involved, workers may think their leaders don’t care, regardless of the public declarations they have made. To address this problem, ask the groups engaged in DEIB discussions and strategy development if they want leadership involvement. If they do, then join in.
- Make DEIB a regular topic of discussion: If DEIB is truly top of mind, it should frequently occur as a point of discussion. If it is rarely mentioned in meetings, employees may suspect it is a low-priority item. To resolve this, try dedicating a portion of all-hands meeting to discussing updates on your organization's DEIB initiatives.
Reason #2 – Miscommunications
Miscommunications, both from employees asking for change and leaders responsible for implementing it, can result in low perceptions of leadership support for their DEIB initiatives. For example, suppose employees don’t understand the intentions behind certain changes or why some issues have yet to be addressed. In that case, they may feel their leaders are insufficiently committed to their DEIB initiatives regardless of their actual levels of support.
The solution to this is simple. Leaders must make their intentions, goals, and plans clear at all stages. For example, if specific language is encouraged or avoided to be inclusive of a particular group, explain why that is being done both to those directly involved in DEIB initiatives and to the rest of the organization.
Miscommunications can also stem from groups advocating for change. This can occur in two ways. First, they may not clearly identify or explain the problems they want resolved. In this case, a leader won’t know what to focus on. Second, they may not propose specific action items or potential solutions, which may result in a leader not knowing how to fix the problem even if they understand it.
However, leaders should be cautious when asking advocates to more clearly identify DEIB issues, justify their status as problems, or offer more precise solutions. Historically, this strategy has been used to minimize demands for change and excuse attempts to persist with the status quo. As a result, when asking for clarifications, leaders must explain that they aren’t questioning the necessity of the change but are only looking to better understand what needs to be done.