United Minds Study Reveals Gap Between Company DEI Efforts and Employee Experiences
A new study on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace shows a divide between corporate efforts to advance DE&I and the lived experiences of many employees. Change management consultancy United Minds’ report, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A People Imperative, finds that many employees are either doubtful or uncertain about the effectiveness of their employer’s DE&I efforts, and that even amid heightened attention on the importance of advancing DE&I, bad behavior and lack of commitment persists within organizations.
Key findings include:
- Nearly half of employees surveyed (47 percent) report that they have personally experienced and/or witnessed discrimination, harassment and/or microaggressions in their current organizations. Notably, 24 percent of employees who have experienced discrimination, harassment and/or microaggressions are considering leaving their organization in the next year – three times as many as all employees in the benchmark.
- While 57 percent of all employees are very satisfied with their organizations’ approach to DE&I, nearly one-third of employees (31 percent) have doubts whether their employer is investing sufficiently to advance DE&I.
- Thirty-four percent of all employees, including 39 percent of leaders, believe DE&I initiatives are “a waste of organizational time, effort, and money.” Understanding – and addressing – the factors driving these perspectives is key to making progress, as the research also shows that leadership tone and behavior is the strongest predictor of whether or not employees are satisfied with their organization’s’ approach to DE&I.
- Additionally, more than a quarter of employees (29 percent) have doubts whether their organization was working hard to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture prior to the racial unrest in 2020.
“While it’s heartening to see the robust efforts organizations across industries and geographies are taking to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s clear that the gap between ambition and impact is vast,” said Kate Bullinger, CEO, United Minds, a Weber Shandwick consultancy. “Substantive and lasting change begins with understanding the true delta between effort and impact.”
Code+ify Approach Provides Roadmap for DE&I Analysis, Planning and Progress
The benchmark data included in the report is part of Code+ify, United Minds’ end-to-end solution that helps DE&I leaders define, resource and amplify their strategy and communications. The people-first, data-driven approach begins with a diagnostic analysis comparing company employee research against the global benchmark data to inform strategy, operations and storytelling that motivates internal and external stakeholders to act. The approach is designed to drive business outcomes and insights from those who matter most: employees, customers and communities.
“The old DE&I playbook no longer works, and the journey forward requires a deeper, data-backed understanding of the state of your organization from the inside out,” said Tai Wingfield, EVP and DE&I Lead, United Minds. “Benchmarking and measuring how organizations perform against key drivers of DE&I are essential tools for informing the right strategy and operational model and guiding communications. This data demonstrates that businesses broadly play a critical role and have a long road ahead in creating more equitable and inclusive cultures.”
Code+ify leverages United Minds’ and Weber Shandwick’s deep expertise in DE&I strategy, social impact and reputation. The cross-discipline team includes organizational psychologists, business strategists, change management and DE&I practitioners, data and analytics experts, creative communicators and corporate reputation builders. United Minds’ DE&I specialty, launched in 2017, has played a pivotal role in helping organizations design and communicate meaningful actions with transparency and speed.
About the data: The research is a robust benchmark of employees’ experiences and expectations. In partnership with KRC Research, United Minds surveyed 1,527 full-time employees at large companies and across industries in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. The report offers the most inclusive look at diversity, tracked across the following categories: inherent diversity (gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+ status, age, ability) and acquired diversity (military/veteran status, religious or cultural affiliation, parental status, education), as well as job type, level and industry.
Blind Spots in Workplace Culture
The report also found that nearly 20 percent of employees doubt whether people treat each other respectfully in the workplace, and more than 30 percent doubt whether inappropriate behavior is not tolerated. Additionally, employees report inconsistencies and roadblocks in the experience and opportunities for women and ethnically/culturally diverse professionals, including:
- Only 58 percent strongly believe that men and women are treated equitably.
- Only 53 percent strongly believe that people from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds have an equal chance to be successful.
- Only 56 percent strongly believe that racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory or offensive language is not tolerated.
Rewards and Risks
The research reveals that employees recognize DE&I as a key driver of business outcomes and that it pays even more dividends when considered as part of a holistic business strategy:
- Recruitment: 79 percent believe a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization attracts high quality talent.
- Retention: 71 percent agree that it is important to work for an organization that values DE&I.
- Reputation: 80 percent believe that DE&I initiatives improve the organizations reputation among customers.
- ROI: 72 percent believe DE&I initiatives improve the bottom-line.
Conversely, organizations that do not prioritize DE&I face significant risk – reputationally, competitively and legally:
- 63 percent agree (42 percent strongly agree) that their organization promises more than it delivers when it comes to DE&I, which can alienate employees and expose organizations to media scrutiny. Employees are becoming an increasingly powerful force in shaping brand reputation. In a separate, recent poll commissioned by United Minds, research showed more than half of employees have used their personal platforms to speak out about their employers’ practices, policies and positions – both positively and negatively.
- Only half of employees are very satisfied with their current job (50 percent) and believe their organization has the capacity to attract, grow and retain diverse talent (55 percent), which impacts an organization’s ability to deliver on its mission.
- Only half of employees (52 percent) strongly believe they would speak up or report if they witnessed inappropriate treatment, and nearly one-third (33 percent) either doubt or are not sure if HR would swiftly and competently address complaints about discrimination and harassment. Allowing bad behavior to go unchecked creates a toxic work environment and opens an organization up to potential lawsuits.
“Our research underscores a simple truth: DE&I is an ongoing imperative. While there is much more work to be done, there is also a tremendous opportunity to drive value and create the most impact for people and companies alike,” Wingfield said.