As the George Floyd trial gets underway in the wake of the first anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s murder, it’s important that we take stock of how much progress we have and haven’t made since last summer’s widespread uprising against systemic racial injustice. While we saw marches and protests on an unprecedented scale, and more people than ever before took up the mandate to educate themselves about the history and continuing struggle with racism in the U.S., what has actually changed? One positive is that we saw more companies step up and take concrete strides to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations, including creating or increasing their DEI budget.
While it is likely too soon to tell if and how this shift will impact the workforce, especially as organizations seek to emerge from remote working, prioritizing additional funds for DEI is a critical step in the right direction. Unfortunately, figuring out how to spend those precious dollars is far from straightforward. Our post from late last year on budgeting for diversity and inclusion in 2021 has seen consistently high traffic from those looking to make the most of their DEI budget. Seeing as that post is more of a high-level overview rather than a guide per se, we felt it was time to offer something a bit more concrete to support those looking to drive real impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Why diversity, equity, and inclusion will be more important than ever post-COVID-19
Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and discussions have historically centered primarily around two issues: race and gender (and typically only cis). These are undoubtedly both very important. On the subject of gender, while women make up 48% of entry-level employees, just 38% of managers are female, and the gender gap only widens as you move further up the seniority scale. Moreover, 64% of women face microaggressions in the workplace, and they’re also twice as likely to be mistaken for someone in a junior position. On the race front, 42% of American workers say they have experienced or seen racism at work, which is 12% higher than the average when comparing France, the U.K., Germany, and the U.S. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of jobseekers now report that having a racially diverse workforce is important when evaluating potential employers and job opportunities.
Gender and race remain extremely important pieces of the diversity, equity, and inclusion equation. However, as we emerge from the pandemic, there are numerous other identities that should be incorporated into DEI efforts. Child and elderly caregivers have had an extremely difficult time during the pandemic and will need additional support to be able to bounce back and succeed in the workplace. Additionally, more people than ever live with a person with a disability, or now have a disability themselves after COVID-19 left many with chronic health issues. Last but certainly not least, those with mental health challenges, or who developed them for the first time during/as a result of the pandemic, will have special needs as well. All of these groups deserve to be factored into your DEI programming, as many of these roles and struggles are especially prevalent among people who are already marginalized due to race, gender, or both.
How to allocate your DEI budget to drive maximum impact
None of the information in the previous section should have come as a surprise to those tasked with managing a DEI budget. Regardless, it is important to ground this discussion in both the full breadth and depth of the issue, as well as the crucial importance of this task. We know that DEI budgets can vary wildly in size, so in efforts to make this list relevant to most readers, we’ve limited our recommendations to efforts that are applicable across a variety of circumstances:
- Invest in employee resource groups. We cannot stress this enough. If you can only put your DEI budget towards one initiative, it should be this. Employee resource groups should be the lifeblood of your DEI program, and can help you drastically increase the impact of your dollars. Employee resource groups are voluntary, employee-led collectives organized around identities or affinities (e.g. Veterans at Initech). Conduct a survey and organize focus groups to determine which group or groups you should start with, and identify your employee champions. Then invest in them. Give your employee leaders a budget to run events, trainings, etc., and watch your DEI program take off.
- Explore ongoing, behavior-based training options. One-off trainings don’t work as a way to sustain DEI impact over time. You can’t pay for an unconscious bias facilitator to come in and do a presentation once per year and expect your workforce to be transformed. In order to see progress, you need actionable DEI training delivered on an ongoing basis. There are a number of DEI services and tools currently on the market that deliver bite-sized lessons and nudges, so do a bit of research and see if any of them might be right for your organization.
- Make sure managers are on board. Our workplaces are a reflection of society at large, which means that systemic prejudice pervades our conference rooms just as much as our town squares. In many ways, managers can be the key or the curse when it comes to DEI. Requiring managers to undertake training above and beyond what the average worker receives will help guard against biased and toxic supervisors who, whether they mean to or not, create exclusive and at times outright hostile experiences and environments for employees from underrepresented groups. Investing in training and support to get managers up-to-speed on DEI and encouraging them to set a strong example will help to distribute the benefits of your funding across the entire organization.
- Transform your hiring & promotion practices. The average hiring and promotion processes are riddled with bias and other built-in issues that prevent people from marginalized communities from succeeding at stepping onto and climbing the corporate ladder. If you have additional funds left over after addressing the first three points on this list, consider investing in software to help you eliminate bias from the recruitment and interview process, hire an outside party to review your hiring and promotion practices, or even simply assemble an employee task force to highlight issues of equity and propose solutions. Striving for inclusive practices during the early touchpoints of the employee journey will provide a strong foundation for any other DEI efforts.
Determining how to allocate your DEI budget can be difficult, especially when we know there is so much work to be done on this front. Luckily, there are some proven strategies that can help you magnify the impact of your dollars, several of which we’ve listed above. If you’re wondering how to get started in pursuing these efforts, we hope you’ll check out Workrowd, as well as the Global ERG Network for some tips. We’re building the future of the employee experience grounded in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and we’d love to welcome you as a valued member of our knowledge-sharing community. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to connect and learn more.