This week, we released a report on the state of the practice of DEI: diversity, equity, and inclusion (see “The Business Of Belonging: How Equity For Employees Drives Equity For Your Brand“). In the course of the research, we interviewed a cross section of practitioners, including chief diversity officers (CDOs), researchers, consultants, and experts in the field, to better understand what’s working and where there is still room to grow. While we heard some best practices that are well known, we also learned a few things that surprised us:

  1. Leading firms believe a good DEI strategy is a good business strategy. As investors and consumers have pushed for more transparency, we have an opportunity to see the direct link between diversity and business performance. The data is clear. Diverse organizations are more profitable, more innovative, and do a better job of retaining top talent. The same strategies that drive inclusion and diversity also drive organizational performance. We often hear questions about the business case for this work, but in the firms with more mature practices, the connection between inclusive practices and business results is well understood.
  2. CDOs are struggling. Sixty-three percent of CDOs were appointed in the last three years, and the level of influence those executives have varies widely. Some report to the CEO and have a budget, while others have an entirely separate full-time role within the organization and have seen their title change but not much else. As companies seek quick fixes, appointing a CDO is seen as a commitment to change, but without influence or resources, many CDOs report feeling frustrated and powerless.
  3. Good intention, bad execution. From tokenism to “thought diversity,” many companies are still struggling with the basics of understanding and executing on inclusion and diversity initiatives. Whether it’s fear of alienating a portion of their customer base by taking a stand on the issues of the day or a lack of clarity around how to operationalize inclusion, we’ve seen many organizations make things worse, not better, in their initial attempts.
  4. Underrepresented and overburdened. Some of the most passionate people doing work in this space come from underrepresented communities. That can have a surprising negative consequence, as devoting time to this work often takes away discretionary time that could be spent advancing their own careers. The very people who need support are being unintentionally overburdened.
  5. No one is satisfied. We spoke with organizations across the spectrum of maturity in their efforts around inclusion and diversity. While those early in their journey were aware that they had plenty of work ahead of them, even some of the most mature practitioners shared that they see this as a continuously evolving process and that there is always more work to do. Like any other fundamental business strategy, there is no finish line but rather a continuous commitment to learning, growth, and refinement of the practice.

The state of the practice of inclusion and diversity is evolving. Even the language that organizations are using to describe it has changed, encompassing a more nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities of creating an environment where individuals can bring their whole selves to work and where organizations can unlock the potential of their diverse talent pools.