The death of George Floyd and the ensuing events of the last year ignited a sense of urgency to Corporate America’s efforts to achieve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) within their organizations. New research from Salary.com reveals a readiness to talk about these issues and have good intentions for closing gaps in organizations across all industries, sizes, and geographies—but significant action is yet to be seen.
The firm’s latest survey set out to measure the progress being made in this critical and complex endeavor. The recently fielded survey analyzed the gaps between corporate intentions on DE&I, and the actions currently underway. No matter how the survey data was broken out (i.e., by gender and geography), respondents’ intentions exceeded their actions.
Top DE&I priorities
- Free Expression: Survey participants placed the highest level of importance on the need for employees to feel supported and free to speak up, earning a 4.4 on a 5-point scale. However, there was a 13 percent gap between that intention and the current reality faced by their employees.
- Strategic Diversity: Also high on the list was “emphasizing diversity as a central mission/strategy” with a 4.1 on a 5-point scale, however there was an 8 percent gap in resulting actions to date.
- Training: Providing DE&I training at all levels was also seen as critical (3.8 on the 5-point scale), however there was a 13 percent gap between organizations intending to offer DE&I training/mentorship to all levels of management and organizations currently offering that DE&I training/mentorship.
Commitment is there but resources are lacking
Many respondents indicated that while their organization intends for their DE&I leader to have access to senior leadership and financial resources, they are not yet there. Also, many felt they can have little impact on the diversification of their Board of Directors. On the plus side, there was strong alignment on both intentions and actions on the statement, “My CEO and senior leadership team intends to be committed to building diversity into the organization’s core value.
Only 23 participants said confidently that they were achieving their DE&I goals. These 23 represent less than 2 percent of the total participant base. In addition, 23 other organizations said that they were taking concerted action to make progress against their initiatives. Alternatively, 37 respondents said that they have nothing in place pertaining to DE&I matters.
“As with other cultural and economic movements in our country’s past, the concrete actions taken are lagging behind the good intentions of corporate leadership and HR teams,” said Chris Fusco, senior vice president of compensation at Salary.com, in a news release. “The positive takeaway from Salary.com’s data is that good intentions lead to more action, so companies stand to make significant progress before the year is out.”
Advancing and measuring DE&I
Having a dedicated Diversity Leader or Diversity Committee was cited by 44 organizations as being the most important mechanism toward making progress on DE&I initiatives. Many said it was important “To hire a DEI director in the next 90 days.” This syncs with LinkedIn data that showed a dip in the number of DE&I jobs posted immediately after the COVID-19 lockdowns but an enormous upward spike since the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets in late May and early June of 2020.
Most of the participants who commented (133), said that they are depending on sourcing diverse candidate pools as the way to make progress toward organizational DE&I initiatives. “This is a good start, however, these organizations will need to determine how to develop, retain and advance these new hires,” said Fusco.
Only 6 percent of the surveyed organizations are holding themselves accountable by tracking their progress toward measurable, specific goals for diversifying the workforce, though many are looking at metrics to hold themselves accountable for the success of their initiatives. Affirmative action and internal equity analysis were the most popular metrics.
The most cited DE&I goals were to:
- Launch community outreach efforts
- Meet affirmative action metrics set by their organization
- Abide by regulatory compliance
Other goals mentioned were more aspirational, such as “To treat everyone with dignity, respect and fairness.” Introducing conversations and discussions around race and cultural diversity was viewed as a good way to start building awareness.
About 18 percent of respondents said that they were engaging a third-party to assist them in the conduct of a DE&I internal audit plus the development of a strategy and goals for which to track progress against their strategy.
Data was collected between February 4 and March 1, 2021. 1,442 organizations responded, representing 21 industries. Organizations ranged in size from businesses with fewer than 99 employees to global organizations with greater than 100,000 employees. Salary.com complies with the “safe harbor” guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. For the responses, on average, organizations agree that Intentions are above neutral, with a score of 3.6 on a 5-point on a Likert scale for all questions (with a score of 1 for an answer of “strongly disagree” to a score of 5 for “strongly agree”). On the Actions dimension, the score of 3.3 demonstrates only a -7% gap relative to Intentions.