Positive changes leaders need to make in 2022 for DEI

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert, I’ve spent the last decade helping Fortune 500 ranked companies, educational institutions, and non-profits create and execute strategies to embed culture, diversity, and inclusion into the employee experience.

Last year, I made a few predictions about diversity, equity, and inclusion for 2021. I predicted that 1) remote work would be more common, 2) workforce diversity would change 3) inclusion would become actionable and quantitative, 4) non-inclusive cultures would see impacts to their consumer bases,  5) marketing would showcase greater diversity, and 6) more allies and advocates would emerge to call out racism in the workplace. It seemed to me that 2020 had been about awareness and education of inclusion issues, so in 2021, more people would be putting their newfound knowledge into action.

In every instance, there are examples we could point to of last year’s predictions coming to pass this year. And as a consultant working daily inside many of the large companies that are working to bring about change, I can honestly say a lot of progress was made this year. But change is a dynamic thing, and we still have many miles to go before we sleep on the road to true inclusion.

Based on what I’m seeing at the companies I work with, there is more to watch out for in the year ahead.

Become less performative, by requirement

Inclusion is going to become an enduring line item in the annual budget, a part of the organizational fabric instead of something companies engage in to superficially to check the box. Companies are going to spend the money even if they previously thought they didn’t have it—like they have had to spend to address supply chain issues—because DEI is no longer just a nice to have, it has become an essential business function to prioritize.  Employees and potential candidates aren’t just asking for it, they are leaving when an organization’s culture isn’t working for them.

Consumers are also growing savvier by the day, it will no longer be enough to make an inclusive stand on Instagram. Customers are looking for clues that companies are serious and committed in the way they create, sell and market whatever the product.

Follow-up on past pledges

Major corporations pledged a lot of money to Black communities, social justice organizations, and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) after George Floyd’s murder. While those donations and pledges made for powerful news headlines, they were also too large to forget. The public remembers. So in 2022, people will want to know what happened to the $1 million or $10 million or $100 million pledge? Where did the money go? What programs were established? What equitable outcomes can we point to?

2021 saw a lot of companies trying to figure out where to spend. Many created programs without having a plan for how they would run and felt the pain of trying to launch responsibly in the midst of a global reckoning on identity.  2022 will be asking for the results of the spend and understanding how the programs are tracking.

As future pledges are made, it won’t be enough to throw money at the equity problem. Companies will continually be asked to show evidence of their efforts to make the world more equitable in tangible ways. We’ll increasingly see calls for accounting and reporting about racial equity pledges. Consumers will want to know how the money was spent and whether companies made a true effort to move towards racial equity, or if the move to be inclusive was simply an empty PR stunt.

Go deeper

Consumers are challenging companies, requiring more evidence, and coming with higher expectations of corporate responsibility. They’re growing tired of one-off token inclusion campaigns and celebrity partnerships. Consumers and employees are looking for long-term impact, sustainable actions beyond the typical donations. The most successful leaders will work harder to put some meat on the bone with meaningful strategic partnerships and talent hired to support their journey toward inclusion. We’ll hear more talk of “systemic” issues and find long-term solutions geared towards addressing those in lieu of the short-term, highly visible, feel-good collaborations of the past two years.

Perhaps in response to public demand, companies will likely deepen their commitment and spend on inclusion programming and solutions, hiring for full-time DEI roles, and building out DEI departments beyond one person. More resources will be invested in research, data analysis, and strategy as more people express their desire to see meaningful change, not surface allyship.

Take listening seriously

In 2022, leaders are going to find more ways to listen to their employees and their customers by necessity. They’re starting to realize it only takes one person with a microphone (a la Dave Chappelle’s detractors) to cause a big image damaging chain reaction, so corporations are going to be more deliberate about listening, even if only to save their reputations.

On a related note, as the Great Resignation has made talent more valuable, the individual employee’s power will continue to grow so we’ll see employee demands get more specific. Employees understand that no one has to be unhappy at work anymore. Where and how people work is going to matter as much as what you pay them. If employee needs are not met, it’s a failure of inclusion. So the smart leaders will pivot, recognizing that more and more people are requiring inclusion to consider taking jobs now. There is already evidence of a few organizations that are not feeling the same impacts of the Great Resignation due to the way they value and include their employees.

Evaluate talent more equitably

Leaders are finally beginning to wake up to the fact that having a diverse set of employees and treating them equitably truly does positively impact the bottom line. When more perspectives have a seat at the table, companies fare better both from public perception and financial perspective.

Leaders will stop considering it an act of charity to hire people who have different backgrounds, and instead, shift toward finding new ways to appeal to and attract talent. They are beginning to understand they can have a huge impact on the talent in the marketplace and they will focus on development and offer the different resources members of a diverse workforce need to successfully bring their talents to the table. Lived experiences and creativity will count for more in the hiring process and talent will be evaluated more holistically, beyond educational pedigree and traditional accomplishments that can be captured on a resume.

Small fish will jump in and fill the inclusion gaps created by out-of-touch corporations

When it comes to competition from the little guys, more small fish have already started jumping in and succeeding. Consumers are looking to make a statement and impact with their dollars. They’re ready to buy from real companies that truly embody equity and inclusion.

From fashion lines that include a larger range of sizes, cosmetic and hosiery lines that offer a more realistically full palette of shades and hues, to small doll companies like Orijin Bees that create dolls celebrating the skin tones and hair textures of Black and brown children, the smaller fish will only grow more successful in 2022. This phenomenon may even catch some larger companies off guard. But they fail to offer their customers options, smaller companies will move in to fill in those gaps.

DEI will enter every type of conversation

If you’ve yet to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion at work, at home, and in your community, get ready for more uncomfortable conversations. The last two years saw a range of experts and books that pervaded our consciousness and laid the groundwork for the public to get up to speed on the issues. So in 2022, DEI conversations will begin to happen everywhere. We already see this in the conversations that dominate the media and the shift in company values to incorporate inclusion. Folks are beginning to realize that equity and inclusion truly do touch everything.

Just as we saw DEI issues eclipse the education conversation, we’ll see increased calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare, housing, public safety, and the economy among other topics of public interest. After learning more about DEI and having allyship normalized over the last two years, in 2022 the average person will become more confident to speak up about oppressive systems that more folks will be eager to solve instead of being defensive.

Just as many of the predictions from 2021 are still rolling into effect, some of this year’s predictions are lofty and will likely take some time to come to fruition. The work of bringing equity and inclusion to life is challenging and at times the work can overshadow the wins. But have no doubt that even when it doesn’t seem like it, we are moving equity and inclusion forward. We are finding ways to help folks see how rich the opportunities are to be inclusive of underrepresented identities. We are having more discussions and most importantly, we are seeing the impact.

Amber Cabral is the author of Allies and Advocates and a diversity and inclusion consultant to major retailers and the Fortune 500 at her company CabralCo.