Advocates for corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies are finding support from a new wave of employee activism, in which workers deploy quiet strategies to press for progress from the bottom up. Business leaders who value a diverse workforce can learn from these creative organizers and improve their ability to attract and retain top talent from all walks of life.

The importance of institutionalizing diversity and inclusion
Diversity hiring has acquired a strong track record for delivering financial results. The well-known human resources expert Josh Bersin recently summarized the state of affairs in a 2021 white paper titled, “Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion.”

“In fact, we won’t even debate the fact: More than 200 studies show how diversity in business leads to greater levels of innovation, customer service, employee engagement, and long-term growth,” Bersin wrote.

However, achieving and maintaining a diverse workforce is a complex task. There are no shortcuts. Bersin, for example, underscored the importance of following up diversity hiring with ongoing programs that support inclusion and employee satisfaction.

DEI is on the ropes, but employees still care
As Bersin noted in 2021, many businesses did hire dedicated DEI staff and increase their commitment to DEI programs after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. However, much has changed since then. One big change this year is a wave of layoffs targeting corporate DEI staff, especially within the tech sector.

Sustained, multi-level attacks on corporate ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles have also muted the willingness of companies to discuss ESG goals and related social issues.

In addition, the dramatic, attention-getting street protests that characterized employee activism during the Donald Trump administration have largely faded from the media spotlight. That has eased the pressure on corporate leaders to respond to social issues.

However, pullback on DEI policies at the top of the corporate ladder does not necessarily reflect employee sentiment. Studies show that employees continue to value DEI programs at work.

A Pew survey last spring, for example, found that 56 percent of employed adults say that DEI programs at work are mainly “a good thing. Pro-DEI sentiment is stronger among women, at 61 percent, as well as younger workers ages 18 to 29 (68 percent), and those identifying themselves as Democratic (78 percent), Black (78 percent), Asian (72 percent), or Hispanic (65 percent), the study found.

These numbers provide support for companies to continue deploying DEI policies that attract employees beyond the traditional hiring pool, and to reach out to an increasingly diverse and socially aware workforce.

DEI from the grassroots up
The Pew findings also indicate that business leaders who drop the ball on DEI may encounter pushback from their own employees. Researchers who study employee activism have in fact noticed that employees are institutionalizing DEI goals among themselves.

Read the full article about DEI employee activism by Tina Casey at Triple Pundit.