As talk of an impending recession gets louder, especially following the recent stark warning from Jamie Dimon, there’s a genuine threat that companies will prioritize cost-cutting over Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging (DEIB) progress. More than just another line item, creating a workplace where everyone belongs is becoming mission-critical to building a resilient workforce and business for the future.
We’re already seeing cause for concern. A recent KPMG CEO Outlook found that while CEOs feel ESG programs are important. In fact, 59% said they plan to pause or reconsider their organization’s ESG efforts in the next six months as they adjust their strategy to prepare for a recession.
Amid the past few years of social unrest, more workplace leaders have taken up the mantle to shift to a more just and equitable workplace. But too many organizations still treat DEIB as a “checklist activity,” which makes any piece of the larger strategy particularly vulnerable to potential budget cuts.
In some cases, that siloed approach may be caused by a relentless focus on efficiency and profitability—which all too often comes at the sacrifice of human experience. In other instances, DEIB is seen as a “soft” issue that can be dialed back in times of fiscal stress.
It’s also not unlikely that even the well-intentioned decision-makers are bringing an unconscious bias to the budgeting table, as they unthinkingly place individual programs on the chopping block.
The fact remains that, deprioritizing an inclusive culture where everyone belongs, puts your company at risk of alienating their future workforce. For Gen Z, who make up one-third of the population and 27% of the workforce, it’s become table-stakes to work for an employer who prioritizes representation and belonging. They don’t care if your organization has a diversity clause on its website. They want to see and feel all people are welcome when they walk through the door, every day.
While younger generations recognize that companies need to consider profits, they also favor employers that share their attitudes on social, cultural, and environmental issues – and many don’t like what they see from the majority of corporate America. In fact, less than half of Gen Zs and Millennials agree business is having a positive impact on society, according to Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z & Millennial Survey . Also, a 2022 study by Deloitte found that nearly two in five Gen Zs and Millennials have rejected a job or assignment because it did not align with their values. The study also revealed that those who are satisfied with their employers’ societal and environmental impact, and their efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture, are more likely to want to stay with their employer for more than five years.
Appealing to Gen Zs and Millennials starts with behaving as a good corporate citizen, but using the physical workplace to reiterate your ESG commitments, remind employees that good work happens there, and create spaces where everyone belongs is also key. Environmental and digital branding, furniture selection, and sustainable materials are great ways to reinforce this message, but this must be done with care and consideration, to ensure employees do not believe an employer is greenwashing.
So, how can your organization protect DEIB programs from budget cuts? Make DEIB strategy part of the lifeblood of your company, and bring the integrity of your organization’s commitment, to life.
Four ways to embed DEIB values into your culture
CEOs need to evolve their DEIB efforts from being a ‘checklist’ activity to integrating it throughout every aspect of the organization, becoming the catalyst for cultural change.
Following are key ways to achieve a culture where everyone belongs:
- Consider the full picture. I’m a metrics person. I understand the power of numbers in making complex decisions. But you need the right data-set to make the right decision. So, to evaluate a particular DEIB investment, look beyond up-front costs—look at the long-term business value of fostering belonging.For example, in the first year after we reoriented the company around DEIB values, engagement scores shot up 10 points. We also won more interest—and more work—from clients who appreciate a DEIB-forward approach to business.
- Listen and learn. To understand what your employees need in the future, ask them what they think, today. Lean into the voices of all employees, using anonymous surveys, group discussion, and one-on-one interviews to discover what they like, and don’t like, about the current culture—and what they think will be key to making it healthier.Note: This process works best when approached with both curiosity and humility, amplifying new voices whose perspectives may be exactly what you’ve been missing.
- Make it safe for people to be their authentic selves at work. Many different people, and for many different reasons, feel they must suppress something important about who they are when they come to work.Empower your teams to feel they can and should bring their authentic selves to work—by intentionality and example. Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. Recognize there’s much you don’t know about other people’s experiences and make room for other voices in the room. Understand there may be spaces and conversations you shouldn’t necessarily be part of and know when to step back and listen.
- Use space to create direct access with multisensory storytelling. The workplace is one of the clearest ways to walk the DEIB talk—when you consider how people with different backgrounds and experiences will interact with it.For example, is your workplace conducive to neurodiversity? Can people with color blindness or dyslexia use your wayfinding systems, and can people with autism find spaces to concentrate without a flurry of nearby movement and erratic sounds to distract them?
Create opportunity for everyone to feel comfortable and empowered in the workplace by investing in multisensory experiences that can be felt, seen, and heard.
There is particularly strong opportunity to align DEIB values in the workplace for younger generations, as the vast majority (81%) have admitted they missed the social aspect of office working when working from home, according to Unispace’s The Reluctant Returner report.Also, go beyond the old logo-on-the-wall approach to design spaces that mirror your actual workforce and bring your unique brand promise to life in a way that inspires every employee and client alike.
Together, we can shape a more equitable future
The pandemic has created an inflection point and given many organizations a reason to rethink their workspace. Embrace this opportunity to ramp up DEIB initiatives because it’s the right thing to do for our world, for our businesses, and for the vibrant talent we all depend on.
Instead of a checklist (that, if anything, keeps aspirations in check), let’s work to build a future of work where everyone belongs, by design.
Written by Steve Quick.
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