The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) space is one that is ever-evolving in corporate America. This is because we keep learning more about the complex systems that necessitate the work, the complex identities and needs of our employees, and measurable feedback around which of our initiatives create meaningful change. This internal learning and iteration, combined with the issues and current events in the world around us, means the one thing we can predict with certainty is change.
It is with slightly less certainty, and a healthy dose of New Year’s optimism, that I would suggest some other predictions in the DEI space for the year ahead.
2020 is a big election year - one that many people have been anticipating and speculating about for the past three years. The last presidential election in 2016 took many of us by surprise, and as such a lot of corporate leadership had not adequately prepared for the emotions and heated discussions that found their way into the workplace. If it wasn’t clear back then, it has become abundantly clear by now that trying to keep politics out of the workplace can be both challenging and counter-productive to creating an environment where employees feel safe bringing their full selves to work. That is why, in 2020, we need to help facilitate respectful, open-minded conversations about political issues. Politics are on the minds of most employees, and directly impact the lives of many. With a 2019 survey by Clutch revealing that seventy-one percent of people think it’s important for businesses to take a stance on social movements, not saying anything is no longer an option. By creating space for different perspectives, we can help bridge divides and create a sense of belonging for all employees.
Mental health has been steadily deteriorating amongst American adults, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness reporting that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. It’s not surprising, then, that 72% of employers list employee stress as the top issue negatively impacting workplace productivity. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are considered invisible disabilities. Which means DEI initiatives should prioritize programming and support to address this trend, partnering with disability-focused Employee Resource Groups and corporate benefits departments. A 2019 survey by Willis Towers Watson reporting that 57 percent of employers plan to increase their focus on mental and behavioral health over the next three years, so we can expect to see this as a major DEI focus in 2020.
Today In: Leadership
The ingenuity, productivity and loyalty of employees can single-handedly make or break a business. That is why companies are shifting their primary focus from external stakeholders to employees. The Business Roundtable–a prominent group of nearly 200 CEOs from the world’s biggest brands–recently declared that shareholders were no longer the central purpose of today’s companies and that, for the first time ever, the focus is on employees. In line with this, Glassdoor is predicting that “2020 will begin a culture-first decade for employers.” In the coming years, company leadership will be looking at employee engagement metrics as closely as their other bottom-line numbers, and shareholders will incorporate company culture into their valuation models. DEI will take on a new level of central importance in 2020 as culture becomes more crucial to success.
Much of the DEI programing that companies invest in—such as Employee Resource Groups, learning pathways, and cultural events—are targeting individual contributors. A lot of energy also gets spent on communicating metrics and learnings to senior leadership, in order to gain executive buy-in. While both of these audiences are hugely important, almost every DEI leader I talk with still struggles with reaching middle managers. Data backs this up, with nearly half of managers reporting that they are too busy to focus on DEI initiatives. This trend is not sustainable, though, and in order to take corporate DEI work to the next level, 2020 will need to be the year of the middle manager. Managers make a significant difference in fostering a sense of belonging and creating equitable opportunities for all employees. As such, curating opportunities for managers to both grow in their own DEI understanding and support that of their employees is the next frontier we all need to figure out.
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