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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Work in 2021

​While news about the coronavirus dominated headlines in 2021, many businesses continued important work in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I)—though others found their efforts falling short. A report showing organizations are not holding themselves accountable for DE&I initiatives was SHRM Online's most-read DE&I article this year, followed by the announcement of the creation of a new federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. Another top news item was accounts of violence and discrimination toward Asian-Americans, including in the workplace.

Here are the top five DE&I articles that caught readers' eyes:

1. Report: Most Companies Are 'Going Through the Motions' of DE&I

Corporate attempts to improve DE&I are falling short, according to new research that raises serious doubts about traditional approaches to the business and social issues surrounding DE&I.

"Roughly 80 percent of companies are just going through the motions and not holding themselves accountable," according to the report, Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion

The report is based on survey responses from 804 HR professionals working in a range of industries as well as interviews and one-on-one conversations about the findings with leaders around the world.

Researchers mapped 84 DE&I practices to determine the five essential strategies and 15 practices that have the greatest impact on business, organizational and workforce outcomes across all industries, geographies and company sizes. Organizations tend to resort to legacy tactics of bias training, diversity recruiting, and programs that sometimes backfire and contribute to more division than unity, according to the report. 

2. Juneteenth Now a Federal Holiday

President Joe Biden signed a bill June 17 making June 19—Juneteenth—a federal holiday. Most federal employees will have it as a paid day off; workers at some private employers, including Allstate, Citigroup, JC Penney, Nike, Target and Twitter, already do. Others likely will follow the federal government's lead.

Juneteenth commemorates Union troops' arrival in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, where they began enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln issued on Jan. 1, 1862. Texas was the last Confederate state forced to free enslaved people of color. 

The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways, according to the National Archives. Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon a Union military victory for enforcement.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 415-14 on June 16 to create the 12th federal holiday—the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983. The Senate unanimously passed a similar bill on June 15. Biden called the establishment of Juneteenth as a national holiday a very important moment in U.S. history. 

SHRM Resource Hub Page
Overcoming Workplace Bias

3. Advancing Racial Equity in the Workplace

Racial bias in the workplace costs U.S. businesses $54.1 billion annually in increased absenteeism, $58.7 billion in lost productivity and $171.9 billion in turnover, according to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research.

Black employees are most at risk for experiencing bias, followed by Latino-American and Asian-American employees. Even employees who don't directly experience bias are negatively impacted by observing others being treated unfairly.

"There has been a collective awakening as more people become aware of how pervasive discrimination and bias are," said Evelyn Carter. She is director of training and people development at Paradigm Consulting, a San Francisco-based organization that focuses on DE&I.

"We are at a pivotal moment when organizations must answer an important question: How will they restructure their workplaces to truly advance racial equity and inclusion?" Carter said. HR has a pivotal role to play in answering that question.

4. Asian-Americans Face Violence, Workplace Discrimination

Law enforcement officials are investigating possible motives in the March 16 shooting rampage across three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent. The alleged shooter's reason for the workplace killings is unclear, though many in the community believe it was racially motivated.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and other congressional leaders on March 21 called for a "deeper investigation" into the Atlanta shootings and anti-Asian hate crimes in America, including attacks on elderly people in California

As the coronavirus pandemic rolls into its second year, discrimination against Asian-Americans continues. From 2019 to 2020, anti-Asian hate crimes rose by nearly 150 percent in 16 of the largest cities in the U.S. Early in the pandemic, SHRM Online reported on bigotry perpetuated by people falsely blaming Asian-Americans for the virus. Many of these incidents happened in the workplace. 

SHRM Resource Hub Page
Workplace Violence


5. An Inside Look at Workplace Racial Affinity Groups

As many employers struggle to achieve racial equity in their workforces, a new approach has emerged that can help create a more equitable and inclusive culture.

Racial affinity groups, or racial caucuses, provide separate spaces for people who share a racial identity to gather, share experiences and explore how racism may manifest in their organizations. Employers can use the groups' recommendations to take corrective action, address racial inequities and advance the company's DE&I goals.

A caucus space can lead to real, concrete change in organizations because there is a direct conduit between what a people of color group wants from the organization and the steps that company leadership—the ranks of which are frequently mostly white—can take to make changes, according to Judy Blair, a Seattle-based organizational development consultant.