Even though DEI as a business imperative continues to grow both in the United States and around the world, a new study has found that many business leaders and executives have merely raised awareness of why diversity, equity and inclusion is important — as opposed to actually making meaningful progress in those areas.
In a column for The Global Legal Post, Ben Edwards reported that “global organizations are struggling to make progress on diversity and inclusion despite the increased focus on issues around gender imbalance and other underrepresented groups.”
Edwards cited a new study from Chicago-based multinational law firm Baker McKenzie, which revealed the extent of DEI initiatives and the slow growth in certain areas.
“The survey of 900 employment leaders in global organizations across EMEA, Asia Pacific and the U.S. found that organizations are still sidetracked by raising awareness of diversity and inclusion rather than taking meaningful steps to address it,” Edwards reported. “For instance, 55% of respondents say raising awareness is a priority compared to 51% who say recruiting diverse talent is at the top of the list.”
Based on this data, researchers with Baker McKenzie speculate that it could take many more years before increased diversity of executive boards and workforces as a whole become a top priority internationally.
In an interview with The Global Legal Post, Monica Kurnatowska, an employment and compensation partner at Baker McKenzie’s London office, told Edwards, “comprehensive training and policies are the foundations of a good program, but without a clear overarching strategy … combined with appropriate funding directed to the areas of greatest need, diverse leadership and robust measurement, it is difficult to make real progress.”
Some additional key takeaways from the Baker McKenzie survey:
- The international focus on policies and training centered on diversity and inclusion has increased significantly over the past three years. In 2018, just 27% of those surveyed had a flexible-working DEI policy. In 2021, that number has soared to 93%.
- Programs related to DEI have also increased dramatically over that same period. Baker McKenzie reported that 85% of companies surveyed now train employees on matters such as sexual harassment and bystander intervention; 81% offer mental health awareness programs; and 80% have programs focusing on anti-racism and racial inclusion. A slightly smaller number of employers — 73% — also provide training on unconscious bias.
- While still in their early stages within many corporations, these DEI programs appear promising and destined to grow in the future, with 63% of those surveyed saying they plan on expanding existing programs in the coming year.
“Organizations that have comprehensive training programs in place show that they take their obligations seriously,” said Jonathan Issacs, head of Baker McKenzie’s China employment practice. “But just offering training is not enough. Learning is most impactful when consistently reinforced — holding employees accountable where behavior falls short of expectations and rewarding those who uphold the organization’s I&D values.”
But even with that growth, Edwards said international organizations need to do more beyond simply expanding existing programs.
“More than two-thirds of respondents globally (67%) believe managers often attempt to put a lid on diversity and inclusion-related complaints and issues rather than implement specific reporting mechanisms to fix them,” Edwards said. “More than a third (34%) also believe that diversity and inclusion issues are underreported, despite 78% of respondents saying creating a ‘speak up’ culture is their top priority.”
“As I&D activities become increasingly central to overall corporate governance, organizations will have to demonstrate the effectiveness of their efforts with greater rigor,” said Yindi Gesinde, a compliance and investigations partner at Baker McKenzie in London. “Rather than duplicating efforts, compliance and diversity teams should join forces, utilizing the lessons of how to implement effective corporate compliance to improve I&D performance.”
“By taking a country-by-country approach – gathering data appropriately where possible and handling privacy considerations in accordance with local law, organizations can begin to build a measurement infrastructure over time that will deliver valuable insights and information to support their I&D programs,” added Julia Wilson, an employment partner and global lead for HR data protection at Baker McKenzie.