Practical insights to inform your 2022 DEI strategy

Over the past two years, we’ve seen a sustained focus on engaging authentically around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) both in and outside of the workplace. And while many organizations have made progress, most still have gaps and vulnerabilities that present considerable risks amid a war for talent.

As the spotlight on DEI as a business strategy continues to shine, how can leaders advance and adjust their strategies in 2022? Based on United Minds’ research into employee perceptions of DEI in the workplace and the expanding role of the chief diversity officer, here are our top five predictions and recommendations.

Report progress on DEI commitments

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, companies made commitments to advance DEI within their own organizations, many of which were later called out for lacking specific plans that would drive accountability and transform workplace culture. Employees and the market came to accept that it would take a year—well into 2021—to define and act against clear DEI goals. In 2022, that grace period expires.  

Organizations should review their commitments now to quantify progress and plan for a transparent update. Leaders should celebrate successes and be prepared to acknowledge shortcomings, both internally and externally. Our research shows this as a huge area of opportunity: 87% of DEI leaders agree that performance exceeds perception and only 41% of employees strongly agree that they are receiving updates on DEI progress. It’s also a moment for organizations to recognize that advancing DE&I is a journey. Remember to define and communicate the next set of commitments—both incremental and stretch goals. 

Leverage for a talent acquisition strategy

Coming out of the pandemic, employees are rethinking what matters most—and aren’t afraid to take risks or quit their jobs in the pursuit of purpose. Our research shows 79% of employees believe a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization attracts high-quality talent and 71% agree that it’s important to work for an organization that values DEI. As the war for talent continues, organizations must prepare and plan to stand apart from the competition.  

Leaders should focus on engaging authentically with employees about their experiences in and outside of the workplace via formal (surveys, focus groups) and informal (candid conversations, enabling managers) mechanisms. They should also understand what truly sets them apart as an employer by conducting a peer analysis. This information can inform a credible narrative that reflects the company’s values and be used to attract talent via company-owned platforms and on LinkedIn and Glassdoor. 

Center retention in community

We found that 100% of DE&I leaders believe that Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and affinity groups benefit employees. This makes sense, considering that employees who participate in ERGs are more satisfied with their experience and more likely to stay at their job despite being more likely to experience unfair treatment.  

Leaders should increase engagement with these critical groups by soliciting input into business and people strategy–and when navigating responses to social unrest. Participation in ERGs should also be protected by allotting annual or monthly hours for employees and providing additional pay and evolving job descriptions for ERG leaders.

Engage employees in DEI

In the turmoil of 2020, we saw a significant rise in the number of companies organizing sessions to discuss race. Employees found tremendous value in having the space to speak honestly and candidly about their own experiences and organizations benefitted by obtaining real-time input on how employees were feeling and identifying underlying issues.  

Eighteen months later, DEI leaders cite employee engagement as the top company-wide challenge standing in the way of advancing DEI efforts—but it’s also an opportunity. As companies seek to engage employees in defining the future of work, DEI should play a central role. In 2022 and beyond, organizations should continue to prioritize “safe space” discussions and other methods of fostering two-way dialogue on topics of inclusion and equity. 

Prepare to take a stand

We can’t begin to predict the societal events that might impact the workplace in the future, but it should now be clear that when one occurs, companies may be compelled to speak out. In fact, our research shows speaking out on societal issues and related legislation as top activities in DEI leaders’ 2022 planning. Companies must consider how their positions align with their values and how inaction and/or misalignment between what they say and what they do might harm their reputation and even impact the bottom line.  

Consistency in how a company approaches increasingly complex issues is key to emerging with a stronger reputation and developing a framework for how to handle these issues is essential to quickly determine a thoughtful, aligned response. This framework should include a decision tree designed to shape a response to emerging issues. Key questions might include:

  • Does this align with our values?
  • Does it impact our people, customers, and the communities we serve?
  • Are we confident that we “walk the walk” on this issue? 

Answering these questions will also help organizations articulate a rationale to stakeholders—specifically to their workforce and lawmakers— for the decisions they make and prepare them to defend their position if necessary.  

Ultimately, in 2022 and beyond, transparency, engagement, and accountability around DEI commitments will remain key to attracting a diverse pipeline, retaining top talent, and growing customer loyalty. And as organizations advance along their DEI journeys, it will be critical that employees and external stakeholders see the investments being made—and importantly, are invited to engage. 

Tai Wingfield is the executive vice president of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at United Minds, a Weber Shandwick consultancy.