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Tina Casey headshot

On DEI, One Real Challenge Lies Outside the Office Walls

By Tina Casey

More workplaces are beginning to reopen as U.S. businesses and their employees learn how to navigate around the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. That re-population should put renewed pressure on companies to live up to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) pledges, now that employees are sharing the same physical space again. However, a new survey indicates that employers need to take a closer look at how DEI goals are perceived by the very people they are intended to include.

Insights from a specialist in workplace social interactions

The new survey comes from the firm Workhuman, which specializes in software-based management tools that improve employee performance, retention and engagement, in large part by focusing on the importance of employee recognition programs.

As described by the company, software including its social recognition offering is a research-based approach to workforce management that “makes people feel seen, heard, and appreciated for who they are and the work they do.”

“It is the foundation for creating a culture of positivity and excellence, empowering humans to do the best work of their lives,” Workhuman adds.

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If this sounds like a recipe for DEI initiatives, that is no accident. Workhuman emphasizes that social recognition complements and amplifies DEI goals.

“Companies investing in social recognition experience increased employee engagement, higher productivity, and better retention, all while uncovering actionable workplace insights around performance, diversity, equity, and organizational culture,” Workhuman states.

DEI and the big letdown

Sociologists, economists and other analysts have been picking apart the underlying factors contributing to the so-named “Great Resignation,” an unprecedented trend of employees choosing to quit their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many employees the choice is not exactly a voluntary one. Many workers have had to leave the workforce in order to care for family members, for example.

However, in many other cases the search for a better compensation and a better work environment are the motivating factors.

As the new Workhuman survey indicates, employers should be forewarned that their record on DEI initiatives could be among those motivating factors. Some employees may leave, or may consider leaving, because they feel let down by their company in the DEI area.

Workhuman introduced the monthly survey under the name “Human Workplace Index” just three months ago, and the DEI issue has already emerged.

“Employee happiness is trending down for the third month, suggesting that employees are aware of what they want from their organizations, but aren’t seeing changes being made,” Sarah Bloznalis of Workhuman noted earlier this month. “One area where employee expectations are changing is around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the focus for this month’s Human Workplace Index.”

Bloznalis drew attention to the importance of digging into employee surveys in order to spot differences in their perception of DEI initiatives.

Overall, for example, 50 percent of employees in the most recent Workhuman survey said they feel “very valued” by their organization.

By gender and race, though, the responses were different.

“Broken down by gender, the majority response from women was somewhat valued” (47 percent), while 64 percent of men reported feeling very valued,” Bloznalis wrote. “This trend continues with race; the majority of People of Color (POC) stated they feel somewhat valued” (46 percent), while more than half of white employees feel very valued” (57 percent).”

A similar breakdown by gender and race emerges when employees are asked if they feel psychologically safe, meaning that they feel appreciated and respected. Likewise, the survey finds race and gender differences when employees are asked how they perceive the value their employer places on DEI.

Perhaps most telling of all is the stark difference that shows up when the survey asks employees about their organization’s progress on DEI.

“Overall, 71 percent of all respondents said their company has made noticeable progress around DE&I since last year. And despite this majority, 40 percent of [people of color] employees surveyed stated their company has not made noticeable progress,” Bloznalis explained.

Show appreciation — for real

The survey provides Workhuman with a strong selling point for its social recognition and other management tools.

“Now is the time to focus on improving the experiences of the employees who have stayed. A simple, yet effective way to do this is by showing appreciation on a frequent basis. The more you do, the more valued employees will feel,” Bloznalis explained, adding that “consistently listening and adjusting can help move the needle.”

That is all well and good as far as DEI goes within the company walls, but the upward swing in extremism across the U.S. indicates that employers also need to think far outside their workspaces.

Ignoring the role of elected officials in restricting voting rights while promoting anti-women and anti-LGBTQ legislation hardly seems an effective strategy for supporting a diverse workforce, especially not in light of the diversity pledges many companies made after the murder of George Floyd last year.

Numerous companies have also exposed themselves to charges of hypocrisy by providing financial support to legislators who stand alongside the mob of white supremacists who attacked Congress on January 6 earlier this year, in a failed attempt to overthrow the U.S. government.

Until more employers stand up and recognize that their political muscle makes a difference, employees will continue to seek work in spaces where “caring” is a serious effort that impacts their equal rights both in and outside the office walls.

Image credit: Clay Banks via Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey