The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion

February 11th, 2021

Last summer, George Floyd’s murder in police custody triggered widespread demands for racial justice across all areas of our society.

Many CEOs publicly spoke out against the injustices, donated to causes supporting racial equity, and ramped up efforts to elevate diversity within their organizations. Companies doubled down on diverse hiring and bias training and reported diversity-related stats internally and externally. An army of HR tech vendors and consultants touted various solutions that promised to address workforce inequity.

But over the summer of 2020, we learned through hours of discussions with chief diversity officers that most were still not sure what practices and programs really make a difference. To uncover the key to diversity, equity, and inclusion excellence, we launched a far-reaching study of 84 organizational practices—including senior leadership commitment, recruiting programs, bias mitigation in talent processes, specific diversity programs, and metrics and measurements.

Based on responses from 838 HR professionals around the globe and dozens of follow-up interviews, we found that progress is still spotty at best. Our research showed that 40% of companies are merely mitigating legal and reputational risks through DEI programs and just one in five hold leaders accountable for an inclusive environment. We uncovered 15 practices that have an outsized impact on financial performance, customer satisfaction, change agility, and other outcomes. Here are a few highlights:

  • Listen, hear and act: This is the single most important practice and its impact is massive. Companies that do this well are four times more likely to innovate, seven times more likely to adapt well to change, and nine times more likely to satisfy and retain customers. They are also 12 times more likely to engage and retain employees.

  • Run DEI as a business function, not an HR program: The most successful companies see DEI not as an HR program, but as a business strategy with vocal leadership commitment, the right metrics, and broad-based local accountability for results. DEI leaders for Target, Consumer Reports, and Hilton all agree: You don’t run your finance function without leadership support, goals, and accountability. Treat DEI the same way.

  • Build HR skills and capabilities: Just like finance doesn’t own your company’s financial performance, HR doesn’t own DEI success. However, HR professionals do need the capabilities to consult with the business leaders on issues related to equity and inclusion. In reality, HR’s skills here are woefully low. 80% of participants in our capability assessment indicate they are mere beginners in this area and just 3% consider themselves experts.

Read our report, Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion, to find out more about the 15 practices that matter most, how to advance your organization’s DEI maturity, and the components of a comprehensive DEI strategy. Case studies from Target, Hilton, Siemens, Tetra Pak, and Consumer Reports detail the practices these companies are using to address DEI challenges. The report provides excellent background for the Josh Bersin Academy’s newest Program, Elevating Equity, now open for enrollment.

We urge you to take advantage of these resources to expand your knowledge and build skills in this critical area. DEI is no longer a sideline topic that can be relegated to training and traditional programs. It’s a business necessity and one of the most important issues facing our society today. We can make a real difference if we all step up our game.

To access the report, please complete this short form.