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Research + Insights: DEI and HR

In this survey conducted for the Spring 2023 issue of the People + Strategy journal, the SHRM Research team looks at how HR executives, HR professionals and employees view the current state of racial equality and corporate DE&I initiatives.

​The View of DE&I from HR and Employees

Three years ago, corporate America promised fundamental changes in response to the murder of George Floyd and the resulting explosion of racial reckoning. Has that talk around diversity, equity and inclusion turned into true action? To find out, SHRM Research surveyed 241 executives, 924 HR professionals and 1,887 U.S. workers to understand this path to progress.


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Moving Beyond Good Intentions: Three Key Actions to Achieve Meaningful DE&I Progress 

By Ragan Decker, Katrina P. Merlini and Daroon Jalil

In light of the global protests against racial injustice three years ago, many organizations pledged to make diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) a priority. Despite these promises, recent media reports indicate that some organizations have cut DE&I positions due to the current economic climate, raising concerns about organizations' long-term commitment to these values. 

This prompts the question: Was organizations' heightened focus on DE&I just a fad, or have organizations made such considerable progress that some no longer recognize the value of formal DE&I positions? 

New SHRM research shows that almost two thirds of executives (63 percent) currently view DE&I as a moderate or high priority for their organizations. Further, according to SHRM's 2022-2023 State of the Workplace report, most executives (53 percent) plan to initiate new DE&I efforts or expand on existing efforts in 2023. While this data suggests that DE&I efforts are not necessarily disappearing, prioritizing DE&I is merely the first step. And questions regarding whether organizations have made meaningful progress remain. 

According to new SHRM data, many organizations that prioritize DE&I to some degree have reported meaningful DE&I progress in the past two years, as reported by both executives (76 percent) and HR professionals (72 percent).

While giving enough support and resources to DE&I efforts is essential, that alone cannot guarantee sustained progress in DE&I. SHRM's latest findings suggests that organizations can achieve or maintain meaningful DE&I progress by committing to three key actions:

1. Prevent exclusionary behavior

Exclusionary behaviors can push marginalized employees further into the margins and stall DE&I progress. Unfortunately, these behaviors are often subtle, and people who engage in these behaviors often are not aware of the exclusionary impact. 

This is a clear area where organizations can take meaningful action. Indeed, SHRM data shows that HR professionals who say their organizations specifically target race-based exclusionary behavior through policies and training are almost twice as likely to report having made meaningful DE&I progress (84 percent) compared to organizations who do not target these behaviors (49 percent). 

Implementing policies and providing training to address the harmful impact of exclusionary behaviors can help prevent workers from unintentionally engaging in these behaviors. It also results in a more inclusive workplace and improves retention. 

In fact, previous SHRM research (the American Workforce Roadmap Survey, SHRM 2021) shows that workers who rate the inclusiveness of their workplace as excellent are less likely to actively seek another job (35 percent versus 51 percent). By preventing exclusionary behaviors, organizations create a more desirable workplace for all employees.

2. Track DE&I metrics by intersectional identities

Intersectionality recognizes that employees have multiple identities—such as their race, gender and sexuality—that interact and influence their experience in the workplace. SHRM research suggests that tracking DE&I metrics by intersectional identities is critical for DE&I progress. 

Organizations that track DE&I metrics by intersectional identities were much more likely (86 percent) to say their organization has made meaningful DE&I progress, compared to organizations that don't track this data (53 percent). This type of tracking can facilitate a better understanding of unique areas of inequity. 

For example, previous SHRM research (Women in Leadership, SHRM, 2022) found that female managers of color (57 percent) are less likely to feel included in key networks at their organization than white female managers (65 percent), male managers of color (68 percent) and white male managers (73 percent). Without an intersectional lens, organizations may struggle to identify areas of inequity and, thus, ways to solve them.

However, it's important to note that tracking intersectional DE&I metrics only provides a roadmap. Leaders and HR professionals must have the data literacy skills to use these metrics to inform the development of targeted, data-driven initiatives, policies and education across all levels of the organization.

3. Hold senior leaders accountable for fostering DE&I 

To drive meaningful DE&I change, organizations must hold their senior leaders accountable for nurturing their DE&I efforts. For example, while only 58 percent of HR professionals say their organization has held their leaders accountable for reaching DE&I related goals in the past two years, 89 percent of those organizations who do hold their leaders accountable say they have made meaningful DE&I progress, compared to 42 percent of organizations who did not hold senior leaders accountable. This accountability is especially vital as it signals that DE&I is a priority to the organization and DE&I efforts are being taken seriously.

In addition, holding senior leaders accountable for DE&I can help ensure that DE&I initiatives are integrated into the organization's strategy and decision-making processes. This can include setting specific DE&I goals and regularly reviewing progress toward those goals.

The bottom line: DE&I is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires sustained effort and commitment over time. It is not enough to just prioritize DE&I or allocate resources. To make meaningful DE&I progress, organizations must prevent exclusionary behavior, track intersectional DE&I metrics and hold leaders accountable.

Ragan Decker, Ph.D., Katrina P, Merlini, Ph.D., and Daroon Jalil are researchers at SHRM


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