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Are You Keeping Your DE&I Commitments?

A group of people wearing face masks at a conference table.

​In the wake of protests and social unrest following the killing of George Floyd Jr. on May 25, 2020, organizations ramped up their commitments to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). 

Companies concentrated on supporting communities of color by promising to take a closer look at their recruiting and hiring practices, which employees they promoted, and the diversity of the vendors and suppliers they used.

Some pledged large sums of money to groups that work with marginalized communities. Others vowed to make internal changes, such as hiring graduates of historically Black colleges and universities, working with U.S. Black-owned suppliers, and tying executives' pay to diversity and inclusion goals.

A year later, what changes have been made and what work continues?

"It literally depends on what company you're looking at, and within the company, all the separate organizations and teams have different levels of progress," said AmyJo Mattheis, founder and chief executive officer of Pavo Navigation Coaching in the San Francisco Bay area.

"There is an increased focus on making these [social justice] pledges mean something instead of being just PR campaigns," said Mattheis, whose company works with organizations to identify and address workplace toxicity.

Netflix started by listening to its employees about what it is like for them to work there, noted Vernā Myers, Netflix's vice president of inclusion strategy, in the company's 2021 inclusion report, its first such report.

Netflix added inclusion as a cultural value in 2017 but found, she wrote, "we weren't as great as we thought we were or aspired to be. And over these last two years, our inclusion team has been building a foundation, sowing the seeds for inclusion to take root within the company." 

It reviewed the race and ethnicity demographics of its U.S. employees, including its leaders, and found that the number of Black employees doubled in the last three years to 8 percent of its workforce and 9 percent of those at the director level and above.

However, "we could do a much better job at recruiting Hispanic or Latinx, Indigenous, and other underrepresented folks into all areas of our company, particularly our leadership," Myers wrote. "We want to go beyond charting demographics and hiring goals by looking at the entire employee experience. Hiring is important, for sure, but so is retention, promotion, tenure and compensation among underrepresented colleagues."

Some employers are frustrated with the lack of progress in their DE&I initiatives, Mattheis told SHRM Online.

"What's happened is a lot of companies have invested money in making all kinds of training videos [such as] microaggression training and allyship training and all these different little areas that aren't unimportant, but have people sitting on their computers and then they turn them off and go, 'OK, now what?' We're not … consistently and actively teaching and training our people" what inclusion looks like.

And change takes time.

"One implemented training does not transform a system," Mattheis blogged on her company's website. "There is no working model that has been effective in reforming our long-standing system that intended, and still intends, to keep a whole lot of people out while welcoming in a privileged few. There is a reason we are in the state of affairs we are in today." 

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Overcoming Workplace Bias

Tips for Keeping Your Commitment 

Mattheis urged employers not to let DE&I fall off their list of priorities. She shared the following tips:

  • Be honest. Acknowledge that what's been done before has not worked. Start anew and set old tools and training aside.
  • Accept that change takes time. 
  • Expect and embrace mistakes, and learn from them. "It's going to require a whole new commitment to how we listen and hear each other and let each other know we have heard each other," Mattheis said. "Everybody is terrified of saying the wrong thing, and all that does is keep us separate and quiet. It doesn't help us understand each other at all. We need to learn to have those conversations." 
  • Increase budgets internally. While it's nice that companies are pledging to various groups such as the NAACP, "turn around and double [that budget] in your workplace," Mattheis advised. "How much is your DE&I budget? What would happen if you would internally invest the same amount of money in your culture" to create an environment that is not racist, that promotes gender equity and is inclusive of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer?
  • Establish diversity key performance indicators with clear, achievable and measurable goals and review progress quarterly just as you would with any other sector of the business. Mattheis' company has found organizations are putting a lot of pressure on recruiting teams, she said, because everyone in the company looks to them to make the company more diverse. In February 2021, for example, Twitter set a goal of having underrepresented minorities and women make up at least one-quarter of its executives by 2025. Employees who are Black, Latino, Indigenous or multiracial make up about 13 percent of its current leadership, according to the company's most recent inclusion and diversity report.
  • Keep your pledge or promise as a regular agenda item on all leadership meetings. Mattheis recommended that diversity should be part of every business decision the company makes. "The key is that it has be a vision that is held by the CEO or top three team leads," she said.


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