A global pandemic upended the working world’s status quo over the last two years. While everyone has struggled with the rapid pace of change, the pandemic also taught us that we’ve only just begun to understand the unique challenges and needs of our diverse workforce. Many workers experienced challenges as the world changed, but the severity and prevalence of challenges were stronger among diverse workers.
According to one study by McKinsey & Company, household responsibilities continue to be a gendered issue across most cultures, leaving women to pick up the slack as things changed. Additionally, women were 1.2 times as likely to report severe struggles with heightened work-related responsibilities and feelings of inclusion in the workplace.
And that’s just the beginning. LGBTQ+ employees were more likely to experience exacerbated struggles with isolation and mental health concerns while people of color feared for their jobs and their health as they saw the brunt of furloughs and layoffs.
The obstacles and learning lessons brought on by the pandemic have given us all a new perspective, and now we can begin addressing important diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversations within our companies with an informed perspective.
The current state of DEI: What we’ve learned, effects, and what can be done
Diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace have received a lot of attention as the struggles continued to mount during the COVID-19 pandemic. But many of these initiatives aren’t new. Even before the additional stress of remote work got people talking about their needs, businesses around the world were beginning to address these inequities but more importantly, they were seeing measurable financial results as a result. It turns out that humanizing the workforce is a good thing. When you give people what they need, they give back tenfold. And in the workplace, that means a better work ethic, better performance, and better productivity. All things that help companies succeed. Unfortunately, knowing and doing are two different things, and many companies are genuinely struggling with the execution of their DEI strategies.
Breaking down the challenges of DEI
Learning how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace is full of roadblocks. Perception is possibly the biggest challenge to creating a more equitable workplace. It’s not just about changing a policy or behavior. The change that is needed is a cultural shift, a fundamental change in how a company operates. And that kind of change takes consistent effort.
Companies need to be all the way in when it comes to adopting their DEI strategies. Authentic, meaningful change is the only way it works. Educating employees with diversity training and updating our messaging to recognize the differences in our teams is just scratching the surface.
We need to understand that any approach is flawed if it doesn’t recognize that different employees have different perspectives. A company is not simply inclusive or not inclusive. The individual experiences of each employee matter. Even if the company is broadcasting inclusive messaging, if the values aren’t shared all the way down the pipeline, individual teams could still feel inequities from their leaders or peers. And those small streams can be amplified for hybrid teams.
Why inclusion matters now more than ever
The landscape of the working world is changing rapidly, and COVID-19 is only one of the factors influencing change. A growing skills gap is making the right talent harder to find. And businesses are under more pressure than ever before to operate with transparency, to be accountable for their decisions, and to be innovative in their fields.
Research lays out how to strengthen your diversity and inclusion efforts and it all comes down to leadership. Leaders can get the ball rolling by making sure that inclusion is a top priority as we move beyond the pandemic.
Taking actionable steps like connecting with employees on a personal level, acknowledging and meeting the needs of the individuals on your teams, and remaining vigilant in challenging personal bias as you learn more about how to effectively lead a diverse workforce is how leaders can inspire change.
The business case for DEI is strong, in fact, research shows that the main driver of satisfaction is belonging. It is up to leaders to connect the dots between what they are doing and how it’s impacting their businesses. A sincere and meaningful effort helps:
- Attract Talent
- Retain Talent
- Build Better Teams
- Increase Customer Loyalty
Yes, a failing DEI strategy could be costing you talent. In one study, 39% of respondents have turned down a job offer over a lack of DEI in the workplace and many more consider leaving jobs over feelings of being excluded.
And that’s not all that’s at risk. Diverse teams offer unique perspectives which lead to better decisions. A strong DEI strategy could be the key to unlocking the potential in your existing talent. And customers are taking notice too. As the importance of diversity in the workplace grows, what companies are doing is getting more media attention. Everything from employment practices to company culture is in the spotlight.
The future of the workforce hinges on leveraging the best that human talent has to offer. Companies are increasingly focused on helping employees be at their best by taking a more active role in providing support.
Building inclusive workplaces matters because success in business comes down to the quality of human talent. Attracting and retaining talent, building teams, making decisions, and connecting with customers are all variables at play based on how well a company manages and empowers its people.
Women struggle with burnout
In most countries around the world, including the US, parenting is still largely considered women’s work.
Despite taking up careers of their own at an increasing rate since the 1960s, women are still 1.5 times more likely than men to spend up to 20 hours per week on housework and childcare responsibilities. During the pandemic, this double shift led women to experience higher levels of stress and burnout and ultimately caused a disproportionate amount of women to reduce their hours or leave the workforce altogether.
Minorities have few prospects
The business world initially reacted to COVID-19 in various ways, including cutting budgets and shifting priorities that left many jobless. But among those who were the hardest hit were people of color.
At the height of the pandemic, only 53 percent of black adults were employed in the US. And out of those who remained employed, hours dropped significantly, leaving 39% of working blacks vulnerable to more layoffs and lost wages.
It’s true, everyone was struggling, but white workers with the same skill and experience level faired better, with 57% remaining employed and 34% vulnerable to losing their jobs.
Ageism increases the struggle for mid-level workers
Greater mobility in the world of work means that talent is always coming and going. And that uncertainty is hurting one of the most skilled and capable groups of employees. Those who are 45-plus are facing a frosty reception from hiring managers.
There’s a widespread perception that these mid-career professionals are undesirable hires. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, and it’s just one more barrier to inclusion in the workplace that’s keeping companies from finding the best talent for their teams.
One survey found that a slim 15-18% of mid-career candidates even get a shot at a job. Hiring managers seem to be set in their ways when it comes to using age as a reason to disqualify a candidate. The funny thing is that when mid-career candidates do make it through the hiring process, 87% outperform their younger peers and more than 90% have the potential for long-term retention.
To change, we need to start challenging our perceptions. We need to step out from behind our buzzwords and quit cloaking “young” with trendy terms like “agile” or “tech-savvy.” Building an inclusive culture isn’t just about gender or skin color. Our DEI initiatives need to go full circle, bringing awareness of these issues all the way down to recruiters and hiring managers.
LGBTQ+ employees feel disconnected
The pandemic intensified feelings of isolation, depression, and other mental health concerns for LGBTQ+ employees.
As we continue to implement our DEI strategies, we need to understand the needs of all our employees. According to a study by the HRC, the main reason why LGBTQ+ people neglect to provide negative feedback they hear about LGBTQ+ employees is to avoid harming connections with their peers. Ultimately, prolonged feelings of unhappiness hurt job satisfaction and lead to higher turnover.
Exploring DEI trends and initiatives for 2022
As we take the next steps into the future of hybrid work, we need to adapt our DEI strategies to address new challenges. While our teams will be interacting in different ways, there is no guarantee of inclusivity. In fact, the divide can grow as employees are likely to seek out contact from familiar faces and shun those that they are less acquainted with. That’s why research on strengthening diversity and inclusion recommends focusing on building identity-safe environments in the workplace.
This is where effective leaders that are willing to champion the company’s DEI strategy come into play. These leaders can shape team dynamics and the trajectory of the entire company culture by taking actionable steps to promote more inclusive working environments.
Here’s what leaders are doing differently this year:
- Using frequent check-ins with all team members.
- Taking the ‘open door policy’ up a notch and following through with help managing workloads or support for work-life balance concerns.
- Getting involved in promoting employee resources and organizing support events.
- Making DEI a priority from the top-down, including formal acknowledgment on performance evaluations.
- Tracking important metrics to monitor their DEI strategies. With Montara, executives and HR leaders can get real-time continuous DEI analysis and the actionable insights needed to promote change.
Note who works from where and how much and compare that data to the opportunities for promotions, raises, or special projects to ensure that providing the flexibility to work remotely doesn’t end up hurting career prospects.
While we think that feelings are important, according to Josh Bersin, real change requires holding organizations accountable. Beyond taking a hard look at the data and publishing metrics, DEI goals have to hold the same priority as all other organizational initiatives.
The bottom line on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace
Now is the time to act on your DEI strategy. A study on the impact of DEI initiatives on the bottom line found that the top quartile of diverse businesses outperformed their less-diverse peers in profitability. Research draws clear connections between DEI efforts, talent, and business. Effective people management that begins with inclusive behavior isn’t just about your people, it’s about strengthening customer relationships and staying competitive in business too.
Looking ahead, the business case for pushing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to the top of the agenda has never been stronger. Creating a caring, connected, and inclusive workplace strengthens teams and unlocks innovation. We are all human, and when we lead with humanity, we break down the organizational barriers impeding our potential.
Empower your people and build a true sense of inclusion using deep behavioral science. Learn more about Montara’s deep DEI insights and recommendations today.