Gears are shifting, and DEIB professionals aren’t in as high demand as they were three years ago. What are the contributing factors and how can leaders turn this around?
By Zee Johnson
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) gained attention during the pandemic and quickly became a top priority for organizations that wanted to make their practices as equitable as possible. Now, a recent LinkedIn report found that its relevance may be wavering. The study revealed that the hiring of chief diversity officers (CDOs) declined in 2022 by 4.51% after significant growth in 2020 and 2021. A second report found that from December 2021 to December 2022, one in three DEI workers lost their jobs compared to just 21% of non-DEI workers.
While the decline hasn’t been pinpointed to a specific factor, many have attributed it to dwindling organizational efforts when it comes to DEIB.
Rita Parker, vice president of global DEI at Access, an information management partner, accredits ineffective tracking methods to the sudden reduction. “We’re seeing some companies pull back on their DEIB initiatives because they cannot see results in a clear, measurable way,” she says. “If an organization does not set clear, measurable goals, it can be hard to measure results.”
Amie Kromis, DEI director of North America at Essity, a hygiene and health company, says another possible reason for the downturn could be the high, often impractical expectations placed on DEIB executive positions. “It’s essential to understand this decline may reflect the unrealistic expectations placed on this role. It’s unfair to expect CDOs to create immediate change within organizations that are inherently complex or subject to structures built over time,” she says.
She also notes that not placing as much thought and consideration into DEIB endeavors and simply viewing them as one-offs in response to an immediate, short-term issue doesn’t help either. “To view or value DEIB differently than any other business imperative is not only short-sighted, it is also ironically inequitable,” Kromis says.
Parker agrees that DEIB shouldn’t be a checkbox exercise and when handled correctly, could lead to future successes. “It’s important to consider that DEIB is a long-term, ongoing initiative that requires commitment and persistence. It can lead to long-term benefits such as improved employee retention and loyalty, enhanced client satisfaction, and heightened reputation.”
Due to their efforts, in 2022, 86% of GoDaddy employees participated in their annual survey revealing that 90% believe colleagues treat each other with respect and 84% feel comfortable being themselves at work.
Leading with Transparency
Research from Slack found that 80% of employees would like a better understanding of how workplace decisions are made, and 87% of job seekers are looking for transparency in a future company. Being open and honest about what DEIB goals have already been achieved, where a company currently stands in their efforts, and what outcomes are projected for the future could possibly reverse the downward trend of CDO appointments and cement DEIB’s importance once and for all. This transparency can happen in a number of ways.
At bank holding company Ally, Reggie Willis, the company’s chief diversity officer, says he’s seen much success in fostering trust and transparency through their “Let’s Talk About It” sessions, a collaboration between the DEI team and Ally’s employee resource groups (ERGs).
“These sessions allow employees to come together to learn and understand one another through the lens of issues, events, and other social or cultural moments,” he says. “Since 2016, Ally has held hundreds of sessions across a wide spectrum of issues and in light of news, events, or situations where teammates felt directly or indirectly impacted.”
In addition to these sessions, Ally’s ERGs have been essential in establishing the company’s culture of transparency with more than 50% of employees actively participating in at least one ERG.
ChartHop, a people operations platform, also sees the importance of ERGs, which they call “Communities” and Ivori Johnson, head of people, talent, and DEIB, says they’ve created several to facilitate DEIB discussions and foster a sense of belonging.
ChartHop’s “Communities” include:
- Women of ChartHop;
- I.R.I.S for our LGBTQ+ community;
- Asian Alliance;
- Black Hoppers United; and
- C.A.R.E, a disability community.
Web hosting company GoDaddy has also implemented a bevy of approaches to ensure transparency is a fixture throughout the entire organization. Kristy Lilas, the company’s vice president of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, says six years ago, GoDaddy was one of the first companies to publish its representation and salary data. They’ve also implemented company-wide surveys to gauge employee sentiments that are used when determining what enhancements will be made.
“Through ‘GoDaddy Voice,’ our annual employee engagement survey, we ask employees for their feedback to understand what is working and identify opportunities for improvement to help ensure everyone is set up equally for success,” Lilas says. “In 2022, 86% of our employees participated in ‘GoDaddy Voice,’ revealing insights such as 90% believe colleagues treat each other with respect, and 84% feel comfortable being themselves at work.”
As with most programs and initiatives, change isn’t instant. This leads to the question—could the expectation of instant gratification be a catalyst in the decline of CDO appointments?
Staying on Track
The ways companies track DEI effectiveness needs to be a consideration. Johnson sees measuring DEIB effectiveness in revenue as a major misstep. Instead, she says it should be measured by employee satisfaction.
“Leaders may want to witness immediate results, but the effects of DEIB efforts won’t happen overnight; reaching desired outcomes takes time, consistency, and leadership alignment,” says Johnson. “Often, [organizations] use metrics directly tied to immediate financial gains, leading them to question the value of these initiatives. However, it’s crucial to recognize that a DEIB program’s main purpose is to cultivate an inclusive workplace, which contributes to employee satisfaction and improved retention rates.”
Kromis recommends using key performance indicators (KPIs) to accurately assess progress. KPIs can be subbed into two categories.
“KPIs can be both structural and behavioral. While structural KPIs include quantitative data like representation statistics, we equally value behavioral KPIs that provide qualitative insights into our DEI efforts,” she says. “The qualitative evidence we collect from [company] initiatives offer invaluable insights into the effectiveness of our strategy,” she says.
By the end of 2026, Model N hopes to achieve 6% Black employee representation in the U.S., and 50% women representation at all levels, globally.
Continue Setting Goals
While organizations are working to put the right processes in place that scope how well their efforts are landing, they should continue being open and striving to tackle new DEIB goals.
Laura Selig, chief people officer at Model N, a revenue management solutions provider, has big goals for her company. In fact, by the end of 2026, Model N hopes to achieve 6% Black employee representation in the U.S., and 50% women representation at all levels, globally.
And as Model N is curating new objectives and striving steadfastly toward them, it’s pertinent that employees are kept in the know for them to assist with the process. “Companies should never keep employees in the dark about a policy that impacts them. Employees should be aware of what’s happening in their workplace, and they should contribute to shaping the company goals,” she says.
ChartHop’s Johnson thinks getting employees involved empowers the whole company to work cohesively toward DEIB objectives. “Achieving an environment that fully embodies DEIB requires the collective effort of every employee — not just any one department. Making meaningful progress is much easier when everyone is on the same page and working together,” she says.
By being honest about the challenges and triumphs along the way to becoming a truly equitable organization, leaders can reverse negative trends and create a welcoming and safe workplace.