Why traditional DE&I strategies aren’t enough

In years past, corporate action on diversity, equity, and inclusion has occurred in siloed efforts within an organization. 

The approach has generally been more scattershot than it’s been a clearly articulated strategy, and this is still the reality for many companies. While this approach is evolving, many organizations are still primarily “solving” their DE&I woes with one-off training sessions for employees or charitable donations to external organizations. Some companies are also increasing investments in Black-owned suppliers or pledging to hire more people of color in leadership positions. 

While these initiatives can provide value, most of these efforts tend to be reactionary and fleeting—and none of them are enough to drive lasting, systematic change.

The old strategies won’t drive systemic change

Many of the priorities for diversity now revolve around representation. And it’s no wonder—Black employees make up 14% of all employees, but representation drops to 7% at the manager level and 4-5% at senior and executive levels. 

As CEOs try to address this issue, they’ll find that the pledge to recruit more underrepresented candidates won’t yield the outcomes they’d like.

To start, every organization is looking to increase their hiring of underrepresented groups, which increases costs and decreases retention. And while this is a step in the right direction, the common practice of recruiting from colleges and universities will become more difficult as enrollment in higher education continues to decline. The pandemic only accelerated these trends: In the 2020-2021 school year, the number of graduates who went to college immediately after high school declined by 21.7% from the previous year. 

Many companies also deploy Employee Resource Groups and other targeted development opportunities. While these are important initiatives within an organization, they usually aren’t designed for the whole workforce. Frontline employees are often noticeably left out.

To drive change at an organization-wide level, companies have to think differently. Business leaders can’t rely solely on targeted training and group support. Instead, they need to create specific conditions and opportunities for all employees to thrive. 

Embed DE&I across the organization—starting with the front line

It’s important to note that significant change takes time, and in the current moment, it feels like everyone is already way behind. But that only makes it more important to get the first step right. 

For companies to address DE&I effectively, they need to stop viewing it as a singular initiative and start examining systems to embed the DE&I perspective within the organization. To increase representation, DE&I can’t just live in the realm of HR. It should span the entire company.

That requires a new starting point: the frontline workforce. This is the employee population with the greatest racial and ethnic diversity, but these individuals are often overlooked and not cultivated to be upwardly mobile. 

Read our guide to learn how businesses should think about investing in employee education as a key first step for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. When a program is structured through the lens of equity and inclusion, then businesses both improve representation across the business and enable lasting equity for their workforce.

[Download the guide]

Written by Guild Education

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