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The Great Backslide: DEIB Progress Plummets Alongside Empathy   

The Great Backslide: DEIB Progress Plummets Alongside Empathy   
Posted on Wednesday, June 28, 2023 by Rae Shanahan

As diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) become table stakes to all organizations, you’d expect to see progress. Yet our findings reveal double-digit declines in awareness of initiatives and an even more dismal demonstration of action.

If you’ve been keeping up with our recent Empathy findings, then it’s likely no surprise that the visibility of DEIB programs has declined. Over the past eight years, we’ve dedicated a portion of our State of Workplace Empathy study to tracking DEIB progress and perceptions. Notable findings from our report show a considerable backslide in DEIB efforts and awareness, especially among HR professionals:

  • While all audiences agree that DEIB is important and empathetic, only 55% of HR Professionals (-11 points from 2022) and 61% of CEOs (-12 points from 2022) say their organizations have DEIB initiatives in place.
  • HR professionals’ visibility of DEIB programs at their companies dropped 17 points from 2022 with only 70% of HR professionals saying DEIB has become more visible over the past year.
  • 31% of employees, 35% of HR, and 38% of CEOs say they’ve seen DEIB initiatives demonstrated in their workplaces, illustrating that perceived action for workplace DEIB efforts is looking pretty dismal.

What’s driving the backslide?

A full-picture view of both our Empathy study and 2023 Benefits Insights Report points to a combination of layoffs, budget cuts, widespread burnout—especially among HR professionals—as well as strategic misalignment on contentious policies like return-to-office (RTO). The manifestation of this “perfect storm” of factors is highlighted in declining HR and employee empathy perceptions, motivation, and mental health. But the data also tells us that CEOs have seemingly been immune to these impacts, resulting in the greatest gaps in perceptions ever recorded between CEOs and their employees.  

Downsizing is likely a considerable factor that has cut DEIB progress off at its knees for many companies, especially the technology sector which laid off hundreds of DEIB leaders. In 2020, DEIB leadership roles increased 55%, however, by the end of 2022 the attrition rate for DEIB roles was 33% compared with 21% for non-DEI roles.

The harsh reality: Organizations can’t fulfill their DEIB promises when their champions have virtually, and literally, left the building.

Other notable findings show that:

  • Roughly half of non-white employees (Black, Hispanic, and Asian-American) feel that the DEIB initiatives implemented at their organizations reflect their needs
  • Employee benefits offerings lack equity and inclusivity resulting in 20-point or higher gaps between what employees and HR professionals feel are table stakes benefits versus CEOs
  • Pay inequities persist with a 20-point gap between CEO and employee pay perceptions
  • Remote workers score higher across the board for inclusivity, belonging, and connectedness than their non-remote peers
  • Non-remote women are the least likely group to feel they can be their authentic selves at work or feel that their company is inclusive, particularly non-remote Black and Hispanic women

As companies reflect on these findings, it’s important to recognize that DEIB touches every aspect of a business. Every employee has a stake in DEIB progress–these efforts can’t be isolated or siloed into a “thing” that is the responsibility of one person or group.

That said, accountability will be key to getting DEIB efforts back on track and that requires investment in critical roles and leadership to drive programs forward. While our data is disheartening, it can also be viewed as an opportunity for organizations to become employers of choice through reinvestment and recommitment to real action.

Read our full findings and list of action items for organizations to reinvigorate their DEIB efforts in our 2023 State of Workplace Empathy DEIB Special Report: