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DEI in the workplace, not a kill switch, but a reset

Even though it’s still a new topic, the role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in corporate cultures is undergoing what can best be described as not a canceling, but a strategic reset. For DEI professionals navigating these times of uncertainty and pressure, the landscape is ripe with both challenges and opportunities for profound change.

DEI and its mission within organisations has evolved significantly from its compliance-driven origins in the aftermath of the civil rights and women’s rights movements. It has shifted towards a more holistic approach that seeks not only to diversify the workplace but to create environments where every employee feels a profound sense of belonging and equity and most of all safety, creativity and collaboration.

This shift underscores the complexity of DEI work – it’s not a role or a department; it's a foundational strategy that needs to impact all levels of the organisational culture. However, the path is fraught with misconceptions. DEI efforts are sometimes mistakenly viewed as divisive or polarising, rather than as a bridge uniting diverse talents towards common goals. This misperception is a critical barrier to progress, underscoring the need for DEI initiatives to move beyond surface-level changes to effect genuine, systemic transformation.

The modern workplace is a reflection of our broader society – diverse, dynamic, and complex.

A recent McKinsey’s research reinforces this, highlighting that leadership teams with diverse representation outperform their peers by a staggering 39%. This statistic is a powerful reminder that DEI is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one, essential for innovation, decision-making, and ultimately, organizational success.

Yet, as we navigate these turbulent times, DEI faces its share of backlashes, driven largely by misunderstandings of its core objectives. This trend of dissolving DEI programs is also due to the occasional economic downturn in tech that forces companies to make layoffs. According to the Washington Post, DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) jobs have shrunk 8 percent so far in 2024 with some of the most recent cuts coming from Zoom. The video conference giant laid off its internal DEI team, however they were not the only ones to do so. Google, Meta and X were some of the few companies who made massive cuts to its DEI’s budgets. According to an article written by CNBC, some companies cut DEI budgets by as much as 90% in 2023. 

So what is actually happening? Many signs point to large changes within the tech industry, as well as the emergence of AI.

When Elon Musk took over Twitter, some of his first actions were to lay off a large portion of the staff. The DEI team was one of the largest position groups hit percentage wise, as the staff was reduced from 30 to 2 members.

But the work of DEI is to unite, not divide; to foster an environment where every employee, regardless of their background, can thrive. This mission is particularly crucial as we consider the demographics of future workforces and consumer bases, with Generation Z showcasing greater diversity and a firmer expectation for inclusivity than any generation before.

Amidst this backdrop, the role of DEI professionals is more critical than ever. It's time to double down on DEI, not retreat. While some organisations may get lighter on their commitments, those that remain steadfast in their DEI strategies stand to gain a competitive edge. This involves a commitment to long-term cultural shifts, far beyond quick fixes or performative gestures.

And the language we use to describe DEI efforts matters immensely. If the term 'DEI' feels polarising, shifting the narrative towards inclusivity and belonging can help to engage a broader spectrum of the workforce in these critical conversations.

The current moment represents not the end of DEI, but a pivotal point of reassessment and recommitment. By embracing the reset, reevaluating strategies, and renewing their dedication to genuine inclusivity, organisations can navigate the uncertainty and emerge stronger, more cohesive, and ready to meet the challenges of the future workplace head-on.



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