Leaders can make meaningful, enduring, systemic changes for DEI

I joined Thumbtack, a tech company bringing the $500 billion home services industry into the digital age, as its first global head of DEI in October 2020, when the pandemic and the protests against racism and police violence were in full force. I was working from home in Atlanta, thinking about how we—as a society—could channel the force of this disruption to evolve our workplace culture for future generations. 

Now, heading into a new year, I’ve been reflecting once again. We are still just scratching the surface of making true progress. If 2020 was a year of corporate awakening then 2021 was about putting stakes in the ground. 2022 will be about making meaningful, enduring, systemic changes. 

Hybrid work models will shift

I realize that I work in tech, an industry that was uniquely positioned to adapt to these unusual circumstances. However, I believe we will continue to see a shift in work styles as a major trend throughout 2022 across industries. 

Companies that embrace virtual work will become more diverse because it allows them to recruit talent outside of their headquarter locations. For example, research shows that both Black and Latinx groups tend to stay closer to their extended families due to their deep connections to their communities. By way of further illustration, parents, caretakers, and those who are differently-abled, virtual work provides the opportunity to engage more fully. Going virtual-first will give companies a new opportunity to reach excellent candidates who haven’t traditionally benefited from relocating.

As we emerge from the pandemic, not every company is going to be able to go virtual first. Some will resume fully in-office operations. Others will introduce a variety of hybrid models, which will dominate industry conversations, as well as DEI-specific initiatives. 

With a hybrid model, there is potential to create an inadvertent two-tier system, with employees located closer to offices positioned for more opportunities and face time with managers than those who are remote. So, as we transform the workplace in 2022 and beyond, companies will need to take steps to ensure that everyone, whether they are in the office or remote, has a seat at the table. 

DEI as a focus for all teams

In the past, companies focused primarily on recruiting to achieve their diversity goals. But in 2022, bringing in diverse candidates is just the first step. Companies need to set team members up for success once they join.

Companies committed to DEI will track what happens to diverse recruits after they are hired by implementing trackable metrics throughout the organization—looking at equity across promotions, compensation, 360 reviews, and turnover—while holding managers accountable for diversity goals.

A landmark 2017 study showed that voluntary turnover in tech disproportionately affects underrepresented groups, costing the industry $16 billion a year. In a historically tight labor market, with the Great Resignation being a major theme across all industries, ensuring that diverse recruits are set up for success is not just a feel-good strategy, but critical for the bottom line. 

New ways to build community

It’s important to have tough conversations, but DEI efforts should also include facilitating connections between coworkers through celebration and education. As companies continue expanding their DEI efforts, we’ll see an evolution into more personalized training alongside events and immersions to better connect communities within the workplace. 

One of the most rewarding changes I’ve personally seen in the past year has been the re-engagement among our employee resource groups (ERGs), who were seeking to connect with colleagues more than ever. And we were not alone. A 2021 study by McKinsey & Co, and LeanIn.org found that 35% of companies have added or expanded their support for ERGs since the start of 2020. In the next year and beyond, I see ERGs as a critical force in creating, fostering, and sharing culture. 

And because different communities require different resources, creating accommodations for work will look different going forward. With fewer people going into an office, I believe we’ll see increased investments in mental health resources, closed captioning for Zoom meetings, as well as a major shift in work-life balance including more company-wide holidays and office closures. 

DEI programs have come so far. But we’re just on the cusp of getting into the hard work that’s still to come. 2022 is the year where we need to live up to the commitments we made in 2020 and the initiatives we started building in 2021.

The way of the future is not just thinking about DEI as an internal priority but looking to our customers, our brand, our suppliers, and our community. In this transformational moment, I am optimistic about companies’ renewed commitment to celebrating diversity and building a culture where everyone—employees, customers, and business partners—can have a seat at the table, get equal opportunity to succeed, and feel that they belong. 

Dionna Smith is the global head of DEI at Thumbtack.