This article was published on BRINK news on March 4, 2021.
Given the year we’ve had, it’s likely no surprise to hear that “making progress on DEI” is a top priority globally for HR in 2021 and the No. 1 priority for HR in the U.S., according to Mercer’s 2021 Global Talent Trends (GTT) study. But as we celebrate the 44th annual International Women’s Day, it’s vital to our collective success around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that we ask, “why are we not making progress faster?”
After all, Mercer’s When Women Thrive research has been saying for years that, despite there being strong organizational intent, progress on DEI remains painfully slow. This is not to say there haven’t been bright spots. The U.K. and France have issued legislation for organizations to reveal their gender pay differences, and many countries, especially in Europe, now have gender quotas for senior executives and boards (e.g., 40% of boards in Iceland, Spain and Norway have to be female-identifying, 30% in Germany). This helps with responsibility but not always with addressing the underlying causes of pay inequity — only 12% of companies are measuring how they can correct these inequities, according to GTT. And these bright spots certainly have not blinded us to the reality that we continue to face a world of divided futures — made even starker by the COVID-19 pandemic and its unequal impact on women and other minorities. In the U.S., for example, only 14% of HR leaders surveyed for the GTT report are taking into account the impact of 2020’s transformation or rightsizing plans on various minority groups, and just 15% are considering the pandemic’s impact on these populations.
As social unrest grows alongside health and wealth disparities, we need to keep DEI front and center. If we are to equalize the workplace, bold actions (as well as accountability) must underpin our efforts on DEI and broader ESG matters. Failure to do so will endanger the ability of organizations to sustain themselves and their people over the long term.
Indeed, the business risks are clear. A holistic DEI approach adds significant value to the organization, a point made in the soon-to-be-released World Economic Forum/Mercer paper, A Revitalized Vision for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): How Businesses Can Embed Social Justice in Their Workforce. Many investors and customers now evaluate companies based on their human capital management and DEI metrics, but very few companies take a DEI lens to their M&A activity, to their choice of partners and suppliers, or to their restructuring plans. Today, equal representation and pay and benefits, along with attrition rates by certain demographic groups are business-critical priorities, but these are just the tip of the spear. With under-represented groups hit harder by the pandemic and its ensuing fallout for a multitude of reasons, we need new and more holistic solutions to make measurable progress.
Last year’s Black Lives Matter movement exemplified that patience with conversations around DEI without measurable change has come to an end. Indeed, many past initiatives to advance DEI have fallen short of real accountability. Now employees are watching how organizations address widening inequalities and are seeking employers who show responsibility to the health well-being and wealth needs of those in their business and communities. Everyone agrees that there is room for improvement. In 2021, clear and consistent listening, DEI data gathering and putting sustainability/DEI at the heart of business’ transformation agendas will be essential to making progress.
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