One year after a wave of civil rights protests pushed CEOs to double down on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Insider surveyed workers on how they think corporate leaders are doing to fulfill their promises.
As part of a series called Cost of Inequity, Insider conducted a survey of over 1,000 professionals, the majority of American workers think business leaders are motivated to improve DEI in the workplace. However, managers are significantly more hopeful than rank-and-file employees.
About 74% of managers said they think their employer’s executive team cares about improving diversity, compared to 63% of workers.
As corporate America faces increasing pressure from investors, employees, and customers to make good on DEI promises, addressing the gap between manager and employee sentiment is crucial. DEI consultants said that leaders who drive employee engagement around DEI goals will be more successful in their goals.
Why managers feel more engaged
For Kerryn Agyekum, DEI principal at consultancy The Raben Group, the findings were not surprising.
Individuals who are largely at the worker or individual contributor level are more likely to be from historically marginalized groups, she explained. Data shows managers and leaders, across a variety of industries, are more likely to be white.
“It’s not surprising that workers, individuals who do not have that power or privilege like managers do, have a very different perspective around whether or not an organization’s diversity, equity, or inclusion efforts are having an impact,” Agyekum said. “They are waiting to see results.”
There will be a gap in sentiment until managers are able to really bring about change in their organizations, the DEI consultant said.
Cynthia Orduña, DEI consultant at consultancy Peoplism, credited the gap in enthusiasm to a communication problem. Oftentimes leaders communicate their DEI efforts to managers, but not to all of their employees, so employees aren’t as up to date, she explained.
Leadership can be very scared to be transparent about what’s going on in the background in terms of new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives…They’re afraid of not getting things right.Cynthia Orduña
“Leadership can be very scared to be transparent about what’s going on in the background in terms of new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives,” she said. “They’re afraid of not getting things right.”
If employees aren’t aware of what’s going on, however, they’re more likely to think that their executive team doesn’t care about DEI efforts.
Orduña said that 63% of workers thinking their executives care about DEI was somewhat disappointing.
“It’s more about, how do we get that number to be 75% 85%?” she said. “If a good chunk of employees don’t think their executives care about DEI, that’s a story.”
Managers were also more likely than their direct-reports to say their company has clear channels for participation in DEI efforts. Some 76% of managers said there were distinct ways to get involved, compared to 68% of workers.
Agyekum said that many managers are being tasked with changing their behaviors, reaching new DEI goals, and having new conversations with their employees. They feel there are concrete ways to participate in DEI efforts, she explained.
However, employees may define “concrete ways of participating” differently. They may be waiting to see more people like themselves in positions of power, they may be waiting for their salary to increase as a result of a pay equity report, they may be waiting to be compensated for their ERG work.
“I think the differentiator is in the definition,” Agyekum said. “Managers and workers may define ‘concrete ways of participating in DEI efforts’ differently.”
When asked about the results of their company DEI strategies, respondents gave a mixed range of outcomes:
Increasing employee engagement
In order to increase employee buy-in on DEI efforts, leaders and managers need to drive results, Agyekum said.
She explained that a “war room approach to DEI,” where diversity is treated just as importantly as profits, will communicate to employees that diversity is truly a core tenant of a company’s values.
“If you have managers that are doing well on diversity and inclusion, hold them up as the gold standard and reward them accordingly,” the DEI consultant said. “At the same time, hold folks accountable for not making progress.”
At the same time, leaders and managers need to increase the level of communication around DEI.
More leaders need to be vulnerable and share their DEI journey with workers, Orduña said. Keeping employees informed of what’s going on and sharing ways to get involved in the process will drive engagement. Insider’s survey also found that 50% of respondents said their managers are not incentivized to hit DEI goals and/or hire more BIPOC employees. The other half indicated a mix of bonuses and promotions for making more diverse hires.
There’s a lot of strength, I think, in admitting to people that you don’t have all the answersCynthia Orduña
“You can even say ‘We don’t have all the answers, but we’re going to work as a team to figure it out.'”
In addition to communicating your company’s future plans, it’s important to make sure your employees stay informed on what you’re already doing.
For example, don’t just email once about employee resource groups (ERGS), have ERG leaders speak at company events and send multiple emails about their progress, the DEI consultant suggested. When it comes to new trainings you have, incentivize participation in them and have leaders talk about them in town halls.
C-suite executives should also encourage managers to tell their direct reports about their DEI work.
“It’s about creating mini-cultures that foster inclusion and psychological safety,” Orduña said.
Psychological safety is an environment where people from all backgrounds can feel safe enough to be their whole, true selves at work, without fear of judgment or punishment.
“Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable,” she said.