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Business Leaders Support DEI Initiatives Despite Criticism

In the second annual Inclusion Barometer, released by executive search firm Bridge Partners, business leaders show a continued commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Despite a year filled with attacks and criticisms of DEO programs from well-known business and civic leaders, 72% of C-suite and HR leaders in corporate America plan to increase their commitment to DEI within the next two years, while just 4% plan to cut back or eliminate their programs.  

The study polled 400 C-suite and HR decision-makers at companies with at least $25 million in revenue or more than 250 employees. The survey was conducted in April 2024 and is the second such study following the inaugural Barometer in August 2023, which itself was the first statistically significant data set taken from the business community following the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate affirmative action in college admissions.  

“It’s encouraging to see that, despite the near-constant attacks on DEI programs in the last year, business leaders are still focused on the facts—that diverse teams, equitable hiring processes, and inclusive cultures are still valuable drivers of stronger organizations,” says Tory Clarke, co-founder and partner at Bridge Partners. “Our data shows not only do business leaders recognize the value of DEI, they are prepared to invest in it. Beyond the battles and debates on acronyms and nomenclature, DEI has always been about more than just words—it’s an investment in the people, approach, and culture that will drive impact, be that financial or social return, and there is still more work to be done.”   

The study unveils new and timely insights, including the impact of the political climate on DEI. Respondents are split almost in half on whether the upcoming election will have an impact on their organization’s commitment to DEI, with 53% saying it would have no impact, while 47% say it has some impact. When polled about the impact of the recent dissolution of the U.S. House Office of Diversity and Inclusion, 43% indicate that this has a positive impact on DEI programs, while 23% think it has a negative impact.  

The study makes clear that, despite some positive news, there remain key challenges and needs around DEI, particularly at the leadership level. Less than half of respondents (46%) believe their executive team fully reflects the diversity of their employee and customer base, while roughly one in four executives believes DEI programs are one-sided, biased, and potentially a fad that will go away.  

While women, racial and ethnic minorities, and older workers are most cited as represented in executive leadership, only 57% say that LGBTQ+ individuals are included on leadership teams, with even lower percentages for people with disabilities, immigrants, formerly incarcerated individuals, and neurodivergent or neurotypical individuals.  

Other key findings are below.  

  • Most (94%) believe DEI is important for its positive impact on recruiting, hiring, and retention.  
  • The board (57%), shareholders (41%), and external stakeholders (35%) prioritize DEI the least. On the other hand, internally focused stakeholders like HR (87%) and executive leadership (75%) are the biggest proponents of DEI.  
  • The economy is cited as the largest factor influencing DEI investment at 26%.  
  • Overall, corporate America continues to embrace DEI, with 79% of respondents indicating their company has a DEI program in place. Of those that don’t, most are standing one up.  
Tags: Diversity & Inclusion

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