Why Commitment to DEI Matters More than Ever in Times of Layoffs – How to Do It Right

Why Commitment to DEI Matters More than Ever in Times of Layoffs – How to Do It Right

By: Ada Mbogu, Guest Contributor

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, companies began to create serious pledges to drive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) within the workforce. Three years later, those pledges are falling short as many DEI teams are dismantled amid the tech layoffs taking Silicon Valley by storm. 

Why are the DEI roles the first to get the chopping block when the economy isn’t thriving? What does that say about the intentionality behind driving DEI to build an inclusive, diverse, and agile workforce?

Research by Bloomberg News shows a decline in job openings for DEI positions. Image source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-01-24/tech-layoffs-are-hitting-diversity-and-inclusion-jobs-hard?srnd=premium&sref=UBkQzfj0&leadSource=uverify%20wall 

According to Bloomberg, DEI job postings were down 19% last year and saw a bigger decline than legal or general human resources jobs. Companies like Twitter have gutted DEI departments from a team of 30 people to two people, while other tech companies are scaling back on their DEI goals and teams just as they start to progress. 

The Washington Times reports that since July 2022, multiple companies have had sizable numbers of DEI employees with seniority leaving; 16 at Amazon, seven at Twitter, five at Nike, and four at Comcast, among other corporations. 

The decline in DEI opportunities within the tech marketplace indicates that many underrepresented groups may need access to advance in ranks and leadership. However, employees are feeling the pressure as they are wearing multiple hats and being stretched thin.  While  driving cultural transformation is still necessary, remaining DEI leaders and teams fear that burnout and low levels of engagement are imminent.

Implementing DEI is more critical now than ever as layoffs continue to sweep the tech industry  and other industries, while the economy continues to fluctuate. Instead of dropping your DEI goals, consider these four reasons DEI is crucial to supporting your workforce during times of uncertainty.

1. Employee engagement and morale will shift. 

Pay attention to your “survivors.” As layoffs persist, support will need to cater towards remaining talent that continues to stay within the company. Companies can use DEI to monitor employee engagement levels and provide strategies to increase morale and maintain a positive and inclusive employee experience within the workforce.

2. Organizational culture will need to transform to retain remaining talent. 

HR leaders and employees don’t always experience inclusion the same way. Source: https://hbr.org/2023/03/research-where-employees-think-companies-deib-efforts-are-failing

DEI strategy can directly drive cultural transformation to retain your talent. Company leaders need to also embed concepts of psychological safety, empathy, transparency and authenticity within the culture so that your survivors will still connect to the purpose, mission, and vision of your organization. 

Currently, many employees feel like their company’s DEI efforts are falling short when addressing how to create a psychological safe culture at work. According to Harvard Business Review, there is a misalignment between how HR leaders believe their DEI needs are being addressed compared to their employees. For example, 97% of HR leaders believe that their current organizations have set effective targets to streamline diversity, while only 37% of employees feel like those efforts really can create actual change. The misalignment between HR leaders and employees can also cause current talent to believe that the organization is not getting to the root causes of exclusion within the workplace, and eventually can cause a lack of engagement amongst survivors.






3. Marginalized employees will need extra support to determine career paths. 

DEI is a powerful tool to amplify marginalized voices. When DEI efforts are undermined and understaffed, marginalized talent may feel like they have no future in your organization. As layoffs persist and turnover is inevitable, it is important that companies stay committed to their DEI pledges of increasing access to rank and leadership positions for everyone. 

Providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities to marginalized talent will be very important as layoffs loom. Having a leader to bounce ideas and also express any discomfort around layoffs is a strong step to generating support. Mentors and Sponsors who come from marginalized backgrounds can also coach talent on how to navigate the workforce and use creativity to implement DEI within the new culture. Accountability is important and mentors, sponsors and champions can lead the effort to ensure that the DEI pledges and work keep moving forward.

4. Redefined DEI Strategy will help you  to align intention with action in a new reality. 

Now is the time to revamp your DEI strategy to align with your organization’s current state. You may be in a situation where layoffs are necessary. You may think that DEI is only important for people entering the company, but it’s actually equally as important when thinking about people exiting–especially if it’s not by choice. 

Remaining DEI leaders and champions need to challenge executive leaders to implement DEI practices when conducting layoffs. Ask questions like:

  • How do we determine which teams or talent will be laid off?
  •  Have we exhausted all options from a financial standpoint to retain all our talent? 

Another area of opportunity involves bridging your current state with your future state. Think ahead: consider how to embed DEI with your organization’s future state to ensure that intentionality meets impact as you support survivors and aim to sustain the company’s growth. 

Boost, Don’t Bump, Your DEI

DEI should not be considered an afterthought, but rather, essential to help businesses thrive during times of volatility and uncertainty. As the tech industry continues to shift we must remember to humanize how we conduct layoffs and support our survivors within the workforce. DEI is a tool for driving cultural transformation and amplifying marginalized voices so that they continue to be valued, seen and heard. When you have a DEI strategy that makes employees feel supported, they remain as invested as you are in navigating uncertain times towards more stable, inclusive future states.

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