Over the last few years there’s been a surge in ED&I roles. With big businesses hiring rapidly to support their ED&I agendas. From the outside that was a really positive step, and it seemed that finally ED&I was getting the attention it so desperately needed.
Which is why the sudden uptake in layoffs and downsizing of ED&I teams is so hard to swallow. It doesn’t make sense that ED&I was firmly on the agenda and now it’s off it. The only explanation is that businesses were never fully invested in ED&I, and now they can say they’ve tried it and it didn’t work.
What does that mean for ED&I now? Is this the end?
Cutting costs, cutting values
Between September 2019 and September 2020 the number of job adverts for ED&I roles increased by 56.3%.
From 2019 to 2022 the number of senior ED&I positions grew by 168.9%.
There was some serious investment in ED&I initiatives, but recently those positions are being reassigned, phased out. In factone in three ED&I professionals lost their jobsbetween December 2021 and December 2022. This raises questions around the motivation, impact and priorities of businesses. When questioned about why the change of heart, most businesses cite financial challenges which mean they need to prioritise roles which directly impact the bottom line.
When we look at world events around the time of increased hires. There are two clear events which had an impact. Firstly, the pandemic. With the majority of employees working from home there were concerns over a disconnect between employees and employers. Not only that but minorities and marginalised communities were hit harder with the impact of the pandemic than other groups. Employers needed to take action to build communities, engage employees, support underrepresented groups and ED&I was the way to do that.
The second event which took place in May 2020 was the death of George Floyd in America. It shook America and had a ripple effect across the world with groups such as Black Lives Matter demanding change. Businesses needed to be seen to take action to show their support and when you look at the dates in the increase in ED&I roles, they tally.
The downturn in ED&I roles signals the lack of value placed on making diversity and inclusion a priority. If it were a true priority and an essential part of the strategic plan and vision for a firm then those positions would be non-negotiables. But now, it raises the question of whether businesses were just paying lip service to ED&I.
Are you just ticking the box?
The increase in ED&I initiatives and hires felt like a turning point. Businesses were starting to prioritise ED&I and were investing in the right people to help them. But it seems the thought didn’t always extend beyond the initial hire.
While wider political factors may have influenced the decision to hire new ED&I professionals, the support internally hasn’t followed through. Without executive support, adequate funding and a commitment at the core of the business to making changes to address ED&I issues, those initiatives that were launched with great fanfare aren’t going to go anywhere.
Then you have to think about what benchmarks for success are being given to ED&I departments and if they’re realistic. Many organisations that hired might have expected immediate results, or at least a tangible benefit to the bottom line but when these don’t materialise straight away then the ROI of ED&I starts being called into question.
Does that mean that ED&I has failed? Of course not. It means the goal posts have to be adjusted. A lack of understanding about what success looks like for ED&I is a sign that the decision to hire an ED&I officer was lip service to a greater political agenda, rather than a realisation of a deeper rooted issue.
What does this mean for ED&I?
For ED&I it’s clear things need to change. The first thing that needs to be addressed is the reasons behind why an organisation is looking at prioritising ED&I. Too often the sell is that effective ED&I initiatives can increase revenue, strengthen a customer base, and increase productivity. But when senior leadership don’t see those visible results instantly, questions are asked and programs are cut.
While there can, over time, be a positive impact on profits, businesses need to realise that ED&I is about a moral responsibility, and that can’t be traded off against the bottom line.
ED&I needs a rethink
Whether firms are investing in ED&I or they’re downsizing their teams, it’s clear that there are a few factors to be considered when thinking about establishing an ED&I function.
Appropriate funding: investing in an ED&I officer isn’t enough. That officer needs resources and funding to make changes, implement programs and create change.
Executive support: senior leadership need to want to make changes, they need to believe in the changes and they need to be the biggest ED&I supporters in the building. Without that top level support and a willingness to embed ED&I in every aspect of the business you’re setting your ED&I team up for failure.
Long-term view:Rome wasn’t built in a day, ED&I doesn’t happen overnight. We need to stop looking for immediate wins and take a step back. By giving new programs time to bed in and for change to happen we’re more likely to see success. Cutting ED&I when results aren’t forthcoming in a few months shows a lack of understanding about how deep-set this issue is.
Reframing success:ED&I shouldn’t be equated to the bottom line. Instead other measures of success need to be found and prioritised. Across the long term improvements to productivity and profit may happen, but don’t let that be the only metric driving your ED&I programs.
Why ED&I still matters
Don’t be alarmed by the recent increase in the layoff of ED&I positions. There’s no hiding that, particularly in the tech industry, the numbers look scary. It’s only natural that the fear is this moves into other sectors such as professional services.
But ED&I still matters, it’s still an important aspect of hiring and staff management that needs to be protected and promoted. Despite these layoffs there are still opportunities in this area, in the US $8 billion is spent every year on ED&I training and that figure is continuing to grow. In the UK,57% of businesses see ED&I as a strategic prioritywhen recruiting new staff.
There will always be fluctuations in staff numbers, particularly in newer areas such as ED&I or sectors that are reactive to the economy like technology. When you think of the growth of the ED&I sector over the last decade it’s clear that there is still a need, an understanding and a market for it.
So this isn’t the end for corporate ED&I. It might need to regroup, and make some changes but be confident that ED&I is just getting started.