Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Building Workplaces That Work For All”
Much has been written and researched of late about the importance of implementing and integrating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training and programs into organizations, to support the creation of equitable workplaces. But how well are these programs working? Are they actually going the distance to address and revise practices, behaviors and mindsets that encourage or allow bias, discrimination, unfair practices, and psychologically unsafe work cultures?Unfortunately, recent research is revealing that these programs often are not succeeding, despite their potentially good intentions.
In a new survey released this month from WebMD Health Services on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging: Uncovering What Employees are Offered, Want and Need, 62% of workers surveyed say Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEI&B) programs aren’t effective, and nearly half (46%) say the programs had failed them personally.
The independent online survey sampled 2,000 adults working full time in the U.S. for organizations with 2,500 or more U.S.-based employees. DEI&B may include education and training, mental and emotional health support, mentoring, resources for gender identity and sexual health, and paid time off for volunteering.
The issue cited by nearly half of employees is lack of accountability, i.e., public endorsement of DEI&B by CEOs is not matched by follow through. A majority (73%) said the job of promoting and implementing DEI&B should reside with managers or supervisors, rather than senior leaders, and only 16% said the task should be left to human resources departments.
Despite the low marks, most employees (64%) say they would benefit from DEI&B if their company was truly committed, and the majority want to work for companies that offer the programs.
Additional key survey highlights:
− Feeling a sense of belonging is the biggest concern. More than half (57%) of respondents cited “belonging” (they feel valued, that they matter) as needing improvement, compared with 43% who said diversity was their key concern.
− LGBTQ respondents were more likely than others to report concerns with belonging, while Black respondents were more likely to cite issues with diversity, and that they had been treated differently based on looks.
− 8 out of 10 LGBTQ and Black employees reported they would personally benefit if their company was truly committed to DEI&B.
To learn more about these findings and their implications, I caught up with Christine Muldoon is the Senior Vice President, Strategy, for WebMD Health Services. Muldoon is responsible for the company’s overall market strategy and execution, including marketing, B2B and B2C communications, and market positioning.
Here’s what Muldoon shares:
Kathy Caprino: Christine, please tell us about the recent WebMD survey and the key highlights and findings.
Christine Muldoon: As the definition of well-being continues to evolve, it is important for us to understand diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging from the employee perspective and how DEI&B at the workplace can impact how employees perform, contribute and engage at work. Essentially, we see DEI&B as a key component of employee well-being. But admittedly, we didn’t have a solid grasp of the current state of DEI&B in the workplace from an employee perspective.
That said, we conducted a custom-designed, ‘blind’ online national research survey to learn more about employee experiences and perceptions of their employer’s DEI&B efforts. Our key findings shine a light on what’s working (and not working) in the DEI&B space – and why it matters.
Key highlights and findings:
There is a discrepancy between employer and employee perceptions of DEI&B efforts:
- While 89% of employee respondents report their company has programs in place to support DEI&B, 62% of respondents do not believe their company is doing what it needs to do to be truly committed to creating a workplace that promotes DEI&B
- Nearly two in three report they would personally benefit if their company were truly committed to DEI&B
- 72% of respondents want to work for a company that values DEI&B
DEI&B impacts how employees experience the workplace:
- About half reported they have personally experienced situations inconsistent with DEI&B culture
- One third of employees do not always feel valued in the workplace
- Over 1 in 5 have felt disconnected or unfairly excluded
- Nearly 1 in 5 have been treated differently based on what they look like or have felt unwanted
While most respondents said they would benefit personally from DEI&B, our research found that there are employee segments experiencing some of the largest challenges:
- 65% of LGBTQ employees report that companies need to do a better job of fostering belonging
- 2 in 3 African American/Black respondents reported their company needs to do a better job around equity
- Asians were more likely to believe their company is ineffective in fostering a culture where they feel as if they matter or belong
- And, one in three Hispanics said they feel undervalued, with 76% reporting they would personally benefit if their company was more committed to DEI&B
Caprino: What do these findings reflect about the problems with DEI programs today and what’s in the way of them being truly effective?
Muldoon: Effectiveness of these programs is dependent on two key factors: 1) An organization’s true intentions (i.e. goals behind their program and processes that recognize it has to continue to evolve) and 2) Engaging leadership to promote and be role models for DEI&B programs.
Organizational DEI&B programs that mainly focus on diverse and equitable hiring policies are not seeing the big picture. It’s more than just hiring from a diverse candidate pool—it’s also about fostering an environment that integrates DEI&B in everyday work so everyone can succeed. Many organizations have not continued to evolve those programs to adequately address the needs of their entire workforce. In some cases, this is a “check the box” approach to DEI&B.
Nearly half, 46%, said their companies aren’t holding leaders accountable.. Interestingly, only 16% of respondents believe responsibility for DEI&B programs lies within Human Resources. Our study points out that almost half of respondents believe managers or directors who oversee employees should be responsible.
Caprino: Belonging emerged as a key need for professionals but they’re not experiencing a sense of belonging in their workplaces. Tell us more about that.
Muldoon: We found that ‘belonging’ (i.e. employees know they matter and are valued) appears to be the biggest opportunity for improvement. 57% of survey respondents think that their company needs to do a better job with the specific component of ‘belonging,’ in contrast to only 43% for ‘diversity.’
This data is perhaps not surprising given that until recently, this area of focus didn’t include the ‘b’ (i.e. DEI). The pandemic has reminded us that people need to feel connected and part of something, which has prompted the addition of ‘belonging’ into DEI programs. Belonging also impacts well-being. If I feel like I don’t matter or I’m not valued, it impacts my mental/emotional and social health—key dimensions of well-being. And we know that the dimensions of well-being are interdependent and when one is impacted, over time, so are the others.
Caprino: From my work as a career and leadership coach, trainer and researcher on issues of women in the workplace, thousands of women are sharing with me that they are not being valued and respected in the same way men are, particularly in male-dominated fields and workplaces. I’ve seen too that DEI programs just don’t tend to have the in-depth insight, knowledge and training to help individuals shift to a place of internally valuing the DEI goals that the organizations espouse. And without individuals changing their mindsets and behaviors, organizations can’t change. What have you seen about this phenomenon?
Muldoon: Our study is consistent with your experiences on issues of women in the workplace. In fact, we found that compared to their male counterparts, females are more likely to feel like they are ‘not always valued’ or feel like an outsider. Women are more likely to believe their company is ineffective in holding leaders accountable and regarding belonging—specifically, ‘ensure I know I matter’, ‘ensure I feel like I belong’ and ‘ensure I’m respected’. DEI&B is important to women we surveyed with 75% responding that they want to work for a company that values DEI&B.
Caprino: What are the top five steps you’d suggest an organization consider in designing and implementing a successful DEI&B approach and transforming their workplace?
Muldoon: Going back to our research results, everyone should be responsible for DEI&B. To be successful, DEI&B goals and initiatives need to be integrated throughout the organization and a key component of your culture. Creating a culture of DEI&B requires setting measurable goals, creating accountability, and building organizational processes and learnings to develop inclusive teams and leaders that help create a path for growth and opportunity for all employees.
Here are 6 key steps:
- Listen to employee needs and re-assess often. Pulse surveys are a great way to check in on your employees and evaluate where you need to evolve your program to meet their needs.
- Partner with leadership to create greater accountability across all levels of management to help foster a DEI&B culture and help employees feel more supported. Consider how DEI&B measures might be integrated into performance reviews to support meaningful improvement.
- Build a program that recognizes everyone has a role in your strategy. Involve the voice of your employees to close the gap between leadership and employee expectations. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) bring together diverse perspectives. Integrate DEI&B into your benefits and well-being program.
- Identify champions to help foster cultural competence by communicating, influencing and gaining support for your goals and initiatives, while aligning strategic DEI&B initiatives throughout the organization.
- Establish key performance indicators to measure your program success over time: Demographic measures on representation of different groups; retention across employee groups; participation in ERGs. Consider achievingc workplace/industry awards as a success indicator (Best place to work for…LGBTQ, best employer for diversity, for women, etc.). Develop a satisfaction survey and measure employee engagement, satisfaction and viewpoints on diversity over time.
- And a bonus – Remember, DEI&B is an incredible asset for employee retention and recruitment.
Caprino: Any last words for HR teams and leaders and managers who are well-intended in terms of making their workplaces more inclusive, but find progress isn’t being made?
Muldoon: The commitment to an inclusive and diverse workplace where employees feel valued, are respected, and have the opportunity to reach their full potential is everyone’s responsibility. People are the single most important asset in any organization, so improving health and well-being, creating a positive employee experience, and recognizing the importance of an inclusive culture will need to be a business imperative moving forward.
To learn more, visit WebMD Health Services.
Kathy Caprino is a global career and leadership coach, author and trainer helping professionals expand their confidence and impact.