DEI is currently under attack, and it may feel like DEI champions are losing many battles.
For instance, the commonwealth of Virginia’s chief diversity officer, Martin Brown, announced that “DEI is dead” in an April speech at the Virginia Military Institute. Two months later, VMI’s chief diversity officer resigned. Manufacturers and retailers such as Anheuser Busch (makers of Bud Light) and Target have been targeted by boycotts for marketing to LGBTQIA+ audiences. The state of Florida has gone so far as to ban DEI spending at its public colleges and universities.
As a result, some organizations are questioning the benefits of DEI, and many of them are backtracking if they’re not finding the right answers. In general, DEI job listings were down 19% in 2022. More specifically, we saw massive tech layoffs that severely impacted DEI with companies like Twitter slashing its DEI department and dissolving its employee resource group (ERG) programs late last year.
But DEI leaders should not despair. Instead, they should step up, helping organizations be true to their mission and their commitment to DEI. We must help leadership understand DEI as a business imperative and the need to remain focused on DEI through the ebbs and flows. We will lose some battles, but we will win the war.
It’s an important reminder: DEI is a business strategy, after all. Companies (and nonprofit organizations, too) didn’t commit to DEI simply because it was the right thing to do. They did it – and continue to do so – because it’s good for the bottom line. It opens businesses to new and broader customer bases, and a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives across your workforce produces more innovation and, ultimately, profit.
As a business imperative, DEI leaders and programs will need the proper internal support and investment to become a competitive advantage. More than ever, DEI will require renewed commitment, executive support, and proper financial investment to help organizations stay true to their mission. Additionally, it is important to remind senior leaders that even though the business case for DEI has been well established, the timeline to see the added revenue could take years.
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In the short term, organizations must focus on maintaining their bottom line and reducing cost until inflation further subsides. Without data to prove otherwise, DEI will be seen as a drag on the bottom line, and more organizations will cut into their DEI budgets and reduce initiatives. But with the current economic data reflecting better than expected and with no true recession on the horizon, companies are yielding better than expected financial results in 2023, thus, chief diversity officers should advocate for increased DEI financial commitments for 2024.
DEI leaders must continuously remind fellow executives about their commitments to DEI – and about DEI’s value to the organization. To help emphasize the business opportunities, share statistics regarding the Hispanic (18.9% of the U.S. population), Black (13.6%), Asian (6.1%) and LQBTQ+ (8%) communities’ overall buying power – and their influence on your particular market. Align your company’s or organization’s strategic goals with your DEI progress: Can you show, for instance, that an increased sense of belonging among employees or customers leads to higher retention rates?
To get further in the weeds: Companies without a Hispanic market strategy are essentially planning to lose market share moving forward. With a projected population of over 66.5MM in 2023 and a consumer buying power exceeding $2T, Hispanic Americans will represent over 20% of the total U.S. population and will become 22% of our nation’s population over the next 5 years.
We need to help our fellow leaders understand that failing to build better relationships in each of these communities is planning to fail. Statistically, the U.S. will become majority minority within the next decade. The question is, will your firm be prepared to benefit from the cultural changes?