DEI stranding strong | Is the backlash against diversity all talk? This study suggests so

Is the backlash against diversity all talk? This study suggests so

Despite a perceived backlash among major companies in corporate America, nearly three in four C-suite and human resources leaders in the United States plan to increase their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

This is according to the latest survey by Bridge Partners, which polled 400 C-suite and HR decision-makers across the country.

The controversy surrounding DEI is not without its historic evidence. A 2022 global Gartner survey of DEI leaders indicated that one of the top challenges they face (according to 23%) is addressing employees who resist DEI-focused change efforts.

This data resonates with 2021 Gartner research of 3,516 employees, which found that 42% of employees resented their organizations’ DEI efforts, 42% viewed those efforts as divisive, and 44% agreed that a growing number of their colleagues felt alienated by DEI efforts.

Yet, the study from Bridge Partners emphasizes that in 2024, DEI is rising up the corporate agenda. "Our data shows not only do business leaders recognize the value of DEI, they are prepared to invest in it," said Tory Clarke, co-founder and Partner at the firm.

The survey revealed that:

  • 72% of U.S. leaders plan to enhance their DEI programs in the next 24 months.

  • 73% believe DEI is more important now than it was five years ago.

  • 79% currently have a DEI program in place.

"It's encouraging to see that, despite the near-constant attacks on DEI programs over the past year, business leaders remain focused on the facts — that diverse teams, equitable hiring processes, and inclusive cultures are valuable drivers of stronger organizations," Clarke added.

Broad benefits of DEI

The survey highlighted several key benefits of investing in DEI:

  • 94% of respondents acknowledged its importance for recruitment and retention.

  • 74% noted DEI's positive impact on reputation.

  • 68% said it fosters innovation and creativity.

  • C-suite executives were more likely than HR leaders to cite improved share price and bottom-line/top-line growth as benefits of DEI. The report suggested that while there might be a perceived disconnect between C-suite leaders and HR on the benefits of DEI, both perspectives are valid and beneficial.

Diversity at the executive level

Despite widespread DEI strategies, the report found that women (84%) and racial and ethnic minorities (81%) are the most commonly represented groups in executive leadership. In contrast, neurodivergent employees (18%), formerly incarcerated individuals (20%), and immigrants and refugees (24%) are among the least represented in leadership roles.

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Ryan Whitacre, Partner at Bridge Partners, commented on the findings, stating that diversity remains elusive at the executive level. "So it makes sense that firms plan to continue their investment in DEI as leadership seeks the competitive edge such diversity brings," Whitacre said.

Whitacre also noted the influence of demographic shifts, with Millennials — who prioritize inclusion — now in management positions, and Gen Z entering the workplace as the most diverse cohort in history. These generational trends are expected to bolster DEI initiatives, despite some calls to scale back such programs in corporate America.

So, it seems that the commitment to DEI among HR and C-suite leaders in the U.S. remains strong, with a clear recognition of its benefits for both employees and the business as a whole.

Despite facing backlash, the majority are doubling down on DEI, signposting its critical role in fostering inclusive and innovative work environments.

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