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Despite a year of attacks and criticism, business leaders continue to support DEI initiatives: New research examines DEI progress and today’s challenges

by | Jul 11, 2024 | Public Relations

It’s been a tough year for diversity, equity, and inclusion—but despite ongoing attacks and criticisms of DEI programs from some well-known business and civic leaders including Bill Ackman, Elon Musk, and Senator Tom Cotton, new research from executive search firm Bridge Partners finds most leaders undeterred in their DEI missions—nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of C-suite and human resources leaders in Corporate America plan to increase their commitment to DEI within the next two years.

The firm’s second annual Inclusion Barometer, based on a survey conducted by Lab42 that polled 400 C-suite and HR decision makers at companies with at least $25 million in revenue or more than 250 employees, affirms business leaders’ continued commitment, finding that only 4 percent plan to cut back or eliminate their programs.

DEI initiatives

“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 all valuable drivers of stronger organizations,” said Tory Clarke, co-founder and partner at Bridge Partners, in a news release. “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 as to whether the upcoming election and overall political climate will have an impact on their organization’s commitment to DEI: 53 percent indicated it would have no impact at all, while 47 percent said it has some impact. When polled about the impact of the recent dissolution of the US House Office of Diversity and Inclusion, 43 percent indicated this would have a positive impact on their DEI programs, while 23 percent said it would have a negative impact.

DEI initiatives

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 percent) 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.

“Stepping back to see the bigger picture, the numbers show diversity remains elusive at the executive level, so it makes sense that firms plan to continue their investment in DEI as leadership seeks the competitive edge such diversity brings,” said Ryan Whitacre, partner at Bridge Partners, in the release. “Beyond that, we see the demographic waves produced by the Millennials—who embrace inclusion and are now in management themselves—and Gen Z, which enters the workplace as the most diverse cohort in history, as strengthening the tidal forces propelling DEI rather than supporting those who call for an ebb to such programs in Corporate America.”

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

DEI initiatives

Other key findings:

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

Download the full report here.

For the second annual ‘2024 Inclusion Barometer,’ Bridge Partners surveyed 400 C-Suite and Human Resource hiring executives at companies with at least 250 employees or at least $25 million in revenue. Bridge Partners commissioned Lab42 to conduct this survey in the field from April 10 – April 21, 2024. Numbers are rounded to the nearest one-tenth percentage. Based on the sample size collected, the margin of error is 5 percent. Statistical testing was conducted at the 95 percent confidence level unless otherwise noted.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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