For Better DEI,Understand the Why
May 24, 2023
Updated: May 24, 2023
Nearly a year of seemingly continuous layoffs throughout the tech industry have harmed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, raising concerns about the vulnerability of recent DEI gains in the workplace. To ensure DEI initiatives are not only continued but strengthened, we must understand the total value they bring, to employees and employers alike.
DEI efforts seek to ensure all workers feel comfortable and at ease while at work. Far too many employees still face discrimination in the workplace, and many employees do not feel comfortable reporting instances of discrimination or harassment. People of color and women, and women of color especially, experience higher rates of toxic stress. Persistent, and often unconscious, biases endure in the workplace, creating a more difficult work atmosphere. This harms not only the employees experiencing the stress but the cohesiveness and productivity of all the employees
The decreased priority placed on DEI efforts also means employees have fewer trusted managers to report to on such sensitive matters and are also being sent the signal that their employer does not place a high value on actively working to reduce discrimination and create a workplace actively promoting DEI values.
At the same time DEI efforts are decreasing, the need for them is increasing.
It is not despite, but because of economic headwinds that DEI efforts must continue to be a priority. When facing uncertain economic times, we must work even harder to reduce those same reasons behind the wide racial discrepancy, with workers of color seven times more likely than their white colleagues to prefer continuing work-from-home. Workers benefit from the collaborative environment of working in-person with colleagues, while also increasing the likelihood of forming mentoring relationships. We do not live in a homogenous world, and we must work to understand why so many prefer work from home to a return to office.
While DEI efforts ought to stand on their own for reasons of morality and social cohesion, it can be shown to be an essential part of any business hoping to stay afloat. If you do not have a work environment in which all employees feel comfortable, you are drastically reducing the pool of workers from which you can hire. In a tight labor market and competitive environment, every little thing counts, and businesses which fail to prioritize DEI will slowly fall behind.
Deeper understanding of stressors helps to reinforce the importance of DEI, and also the importance of knowing and adapting to the different needs of different employees. To understand why employees may resist a return to the office full-time, we must understand the why behind the aforementioned gap between white professional workers and their colleagues of color. The importance of understanding stress cannot be overstated, and workers facing discrimination or feeling unsettled at work may themselves not be fully aware of why.
However, rather than prioritize DEI efforts, far too many companies are going in the wrong direction, with DEI departments the first target for job cuts. Surveys of increased burnout among DEI workers cite inadequate time and resources dedicated to DEI, only exacerbated by a lack of financial and leadership support.
The increase in burnout among DEI employees specifically has worrying implications for the future. As with any department, lower levels of staffing and support will create higher levels of stress and burnout for those who remain. After increasing for a few years, many are leaving DEI jobs, and far too many of those job vacancies are being left unfilled. Lower staffing levels increase stress on the remaining DEI employees, rendering them less effective and more likely to move on, a cycle which will only gain momentum unless addressed.
The good progress made in this area in the last five years especially is in danger.
More and more employers cite mental well-being and company culture as a priority when choosing to remain in – or find – a workplace. More than 80% of employees would rather have good mental health than a high-paying job, according to one study by the Workforce Institute. These broader trends towards prioritizing mental health combine with the higher levels of stress faced by a portion of the workforce due to lack of investment in DEI.
If you are unaware of the stressors your workers face every day, little can be done to reduce the stress, and keep that stress from leading to burnout and high turnover rates. Understanding the value behind DEI, and giving employers the tools to better implement DEI initiates, was no small part of my company’s efforts to find a solution to stress in the workplace.
Productivity is yet another consequence of DEI failure. Stress brought on because of a lack of DEI value can lead to lower productivity, ultimately hurting the company’s bottom line.
We are not always the most reliable narrators when it comes to understanding our stress, but biometrics never lie. The internet of things can be used to overcome that hurdle, using wearable technology to sync with calendar and GPS data to pinpoint when and where your stress spiked.
Good for some, Better for all
Better integration of such technology can increase the effectiveness of DEI efforts. It enables employers and employees alike to gain a deeper awareness of the benefits of a well-implemented DEI program, as well as the drawbacks of failing to do so. Most workers, and a larger share of executives, place a priority on their own wellbeing, and are considering finding a new job which better supports them. Without understanding stressors at work, management can unknowingly make work life more stressful for their employees. By combining the computing power we all carry around in our pockets with the truly astonishing opportunities presented by wearable technology, everyday people can optimize their health and athletic performance. This same approach can be taken in the workplace, giving employees the tools to increase self-awareness, and engage productively and effectively on workplace and interpersonal issues.
When it comes to DEI efforts, in which management may come from an extremely different background from those they oversee, these blind spots can be multiplied. Again, this can have a multiplying effect, starting from the hiring process, through the day-to-day minutiae of work, up to decisions on promotions and layoffs. Such high turnover will have a knock-on effect, impacting the cohesiveness of the team a whole, and bringing down morale for all.
A well implemented DEI program, which works to understand employee stress from a bottom-up and top-down approach, can reduce stress for all while creating a more supportive work environment for all.
Edward J. Beltran is the CEO of global leadership development and training company Fierce, developers of the new Pulse app to help employees and employers understand stress in the workplace. Mr. Beltran is a disruptor in workplace culture, bringing decades of experience to bear by merging technology and workforce development. He and his team developed the Pulse app to give employers critical insights into their teams’ well-being to improve both health and productivity.