Why DEI “being under fire” is actually a good thing

If you’ve been reading the news coming out of the US about the future of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) being in jeopardy, let us begin by acknowledging: DEI being under fire is not new. 

Just last year, we were defending comments from Andy Kessler, who suggested the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank may have been as a result of them “being distracted by diversity”. 

Yet, it’s when pressure is increased that change happens. Take Covid as a recent example, the demand from employees to work from home and flexibly was increasing yet companies were painfully slow to respond. Then, a global pandemic took hold and we saw an unprecedented acceleration to the enablement of working from home. 

Post-pandemic, we commented on this trend, wondering what significant event could put a rocket up the stagnant progress happening in the DEI space. Enter: the legal battles in the US putting the whole industry under attack. This is our opportunity, and we need to make the most of it.

Below, we share how you can safeguard and optimise the effectiveness of your DEI efforts. 

1. Evolve from DEI initiatives to DEI integration

DEI efforts are most impactful when they are embedded in the organisational strategy. More so, they become much easier to defend when they are key and integral to the business’ success.

Step 1: don’t silo DEI in HR. DEI impacts every aspect of an organisation. Placing it solely under HR can diminish its impact, often making it the first to be overlooked. HR traditionally focuses on risk mitigation to safeguard the organisation, but DEI thrives on risk-taking for value creation. DEI should be treated as an essential function that is a key contributor to business performance.

To achieve this, DEI should be owned by business leaders, with key metrics embedded into business unit KPI’s. Further, DEI needs to be woven into the way of working for all teams, with inclusive behaviours being the status quo and equity top-of-mind across all hiring and promotion decisions.

2. Walk the walk before talking the talk

To date, DEI has largely been treated as a tick-the-box exercise, with efforts focusing primarily on brand image, rather than lasting and impactful change. As external promotion of DEI efforts becomes increasingly scrutinised, it encourages us to move beyond surface-level initiatives that focus more on external perceptions and towards those that drive impact and progress internally.

Take the opportunity to assess the current initiatives you have in place and what their expected outcome is. Every initiative should be closely linked to a business priority, with mechanisms for measurement of effectiveness in place. Activities that are just for show should be challenged – they are taking money, effort and resources away from actions that drive true and lasting progress.

Gone are the days of being able to bluff our way out of DEI scrutiny. In Australia, we’re on the brink of gender pay gap data being publicly released. Organisations will have the opportunity to release a statement to defend gaps that exist, but for them to be regarded, they will need to demonstrate tangible steps that are being taken and the expected outcome of these

3. Tweak positioning and messaging, not effort

Responding to DEI backlash has been a requirement for as long as the discipline has existed, due the redistribution of power, the inevitable resistance to change and the “perceived” threat. The focus and sensitivity we should have is on how efforts are being communicated and positioned with a consistent talk track and rationale across the board. 

When launching or rolling out a new DEI initiative or project, be clear on how it has come about, how it’s intended to support the business and the role that all employees play in supporting it. Consider the different perspectives employees may have, anticipate the threats they may perceive as a result of your initiatives, and address these proactively in your communication strategy. 

We know it feels like DEI as an industry is dealing with one new challenge after another – believe us, we get it. But we’re optimistic about the opportunity that this time presents for realising what we’ve all been working towards for years: for full DEI integration to be the natural and expected way of doing business. 

Written By Angelica Hunt, Head of Marketing & Senior Consultant at TDC Global.


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