The past few years have brought considerable focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Yet, as some organizations grapple with economic pressures and changes in market dynamics, we have seen significant layoffs in the DEI industry. As Christie Lindor, an inclusion strategist and CEO of Tessi Consulting, noted, many organizations responded to 2020’s social events without clearly understanding DEI’s role in business. For those remaining in the wake of DEI layoffs, how do we continue fostering innovation, attracting, and retaining top talent while upholding company values? Here are six tips.
Understanding the Value of DEI
DEI is more than a buzzword or a reactive measure to social pressures. It is a strategic approach to unleashing the full potential of a diverse workforce, creating innovation, and enhancing productivity. It’s important to recognize this value and strive toward a more inclusive work environment, even amid layoffs. DEI is one piece of a larger puzzle; it is not a standalone practice. DEI strategists should see themselves as change agents, people managers, and cultural futurists. Organizational DEI practitioners must step out of the mold of 1960s civil rights activists. That’s a different role, and activists use different tools. I won’t cover all the nuance here, but dismantling systems of oppression and increasing organizational capacity are interrelated but very different strategic processes. Implementing strong DEI workplace strategies avoids the conditions that foster the need for activism and workplace disruption.
Strengthening Internal DEI Capacities
With DEI specialists gone, organizations must build internal capacities to carry forward the inclusion work. HR professionals and managers must have the necessary skills and tools to foster an inclusive culture. Strengthening capacity might involve training sessions, webinars, or workshops on DEI principles, biases, and effective strategies. No specialist means that we must broaden the skillset of those left behind, which is okay. HR professionals will have to be adept generalists and not DEI specialists, but that does not mean they will not have excellent skills. Urge your organization to invest in additional training to cover the loss in staffing capacity. The organization still saves money, but the intellectual capacity remains.
Hiring Outside consultants can be an affordable way to strengthen capacity. We only work when you need us, and you can assure that the work is focused on specific outcomes. Here are Four Questions You Should Ask When Developing Your Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Strategy before you bring in an outside trainer/consultant.
Making Inclusion Everyone’s Responsibility
In the face of DEI layoffs, the responsibility of fostering an inclusive environment should not be left solely to HR or management. Instead, everyone in the organization must understand their role in creating an inclusive workspace. This begins by establishing clear expectations and behaviors aligned with DEI values for all employees. There is a saying, “If it is everyone’s responsibly, it is no one’s responsibility.” I generally tend to agree with that, but in the case of DEI work, I often think the DEI hire did the work a disservice. In many organizations, DEI work was pigeonholed, isolated from the rest of the organizational mission. So the “buck,” the energy, and the progress all stopped at the door of the Chief Diversity Officer. DEI, in many cases, was not part of the overall strategic planning process. To create a culture of inclusion, everyone must participate and under the role they play in making the work successful.
Nurturing Innovation Through Diversity
A diverse team brings different perspectives, skills, and experiences, fueling creativity and problem-solving. Make sure that these diverse voices are heard and leveraged. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and other inclusion program staff members will need reassurance that the hard work they accomplished will not be unwound. Have a strategy to gather feedback about the future of DEI programs and their impact on employee satisfaction and other performance metrics. Encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas and create spaces where they feel safe and valued.
Retaining Talent in Turbulent Times
Retaining top talent after DEI layoffs involves showing employees they are valued and their growth and well-being are priorities. Clear communication is crucial – explain the reasons behind the layoffs and what steps are being taken to protect the remaining staff members. Support employees during this transition phase with resources like career development programs, wellness initiatives, and transparent performance evaluation systems.
With layoffs often comes a shift in recruitment strategy. Be mindful that new hires might need reassurance that they will not get the ax next. Communicate the hires are intentional and well thought out. Maintain a commitment to diverse hiring, looking for talent that has the necessary skills and aligns with your company’s DEI values. Highlight your organization’s commitment to DEI in job descriptions, interviews, and onboarding sessions. This might prove harder once they find out key DEI staff has been let go.
Navigating through DEI layoffs presents unique challenges, but it can be done. Loss of key staff roles often allows one to recommit to DEI principles and demonstrate resilience. DEI work goes beyond specific roles and is an ongoing process that requires the collective effort of the entire organization.
Through all of this, remember the words of Seth Godin, who noted, “Change-making happens when people fall in love with a different version of the future.” Let us continue to fall in love with a future where DEI is not just an initiative or a knee-jerk reaction but an integral part of our organization’s culture.
Is your organization having a tough time determining the next steps after DEI layoffs? Contact me and get back on track.