When 2020’s Pride parades were canceled because of coronavirus lockdowns, for many of us, it felt like a devastating setback for a movement that thrives on visibility and community. These concerns only grew as too many in the LGBTQIA+ community experienced poor mental health, social despair and even domestic violence, as well as significant gaps in access to care and resources — all as a result of the pandemic. According to preliminary findings from Mercer’s forthcoming 2021 Global Inclusive Benefits Survey, 52% of companies say COVID-19 has exacerbated disparities in health, welfare and well-being for minorities and underrepresented groups.
But even with these setbacks and uneven recovery from the pandemic worldwide, LGBTQIA+ leaders are finding a lot more to celebrate as they mark this year’s Pride Month and look to the future.
Despite a very challenging year — or perhaps even because of it — diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has moved to the center stage in global workplaces. The year brought recognition of the shared work still needed to advance inclusion across underrepresented groups. It’s also made clear that maintaining an intersectional lens for those with multiple marginalized identities will be more critical than ever to ensure progress. Now, in 2021, it is time to reflect on how advancing DEI improves belonging for all.
No longer a bolt-on, afterthought or disconnected checkbox, DEI has come into its own as a critical pillar of business success. We believe this momentum will continue to grow, but only if leaders take a multidimensional approach to the ongoing challenges of representation, equity and inclusion.
For decades, DEI has been a promise unfulfilled. Too many companies saw it as a nice-to-have. Over the past year, however, the once distant drumbeat has grown exponentially louder and more urgent. DEI has finally risen in priority, as the pandemic and social change has forced companies to reassess what their stakeholders value most and redefine what constitutes success.
A strong business and financial case for diversity, equity and inclusion already exists. When teams and organizations are more diverse, their financial results are better, they can find and keep top talent, and they are more creative and innovative. In the wake of the disruptions of the pandemic year, workplaces are now also considering the moral imperative of DEI and overlapping ESG (environmental, social and governance) concerns.
Inclusivity and prioritizing racial, LGBTQIA+ and gender equality are now minimum requirements. In our 2020 poll of business leaders, 74% of organizations reported an increased focus on DEI. And according to our 2021 Global Talent Trends report, two out of three organizations say ESG will be a crucial focus for them in 2021. Although companies recognize the urgency these issues, our forthcoming 2021 Global Inclusive Benefits Survey shows that only 2% of 634 companies currently lead inclusive benefits practices with an innovative, disruptive approach. More than half (58%) of companies remain in a more passive process, relying on local practices or developing inclusive benefits under uneven global strategies.
Even with such good intentions, many companies are struggling with how to begin. For example, nearly half (45%) of executives in the US use or are considering using DEI metrics in their incentive plans. Yet only 16% say they are taking into account the impact of 2020’s transformation or rightsizing plans on various minority groups, and only 15% are considering the pandemic’s impact on these populations.
Perhaps it is unsurprising that nearly half (46%) of those companies also say they have seen no signs of improvement thus far.
As you celebrate Pride month in 2021, you may be looking for new ways to close these gaps between your DEI aspirations and DEI realities. How can you create an environment where all employees feel safe, valued, empowered and able to develop their full potential?
Successful DEI programs recognize that numerous factors make us all unique as individuals and that creating workforce equality requires a multidimensional approach. Here are four steps that will help you make an impact with your efforts:
You will want to begin by listening. Open up two-way lines of communication with your entire ecosystem of stakeholders, starting with your employees. According to Mercer’s Let’s Get Real About Equality research, 65% of organizations feel pressure from employees to improve DEI outcomes. It’s crucial to understand how employees are experiencing the culture and the impact of policies and programs by hearing from your employees directly.
How can you access those stakeholder voices? Mercer partners with a platform called Remesh, which enables digital focus groups in a live chat-room-like experience. Importantly, Remesh allows colleagues to participate with a level of anonymity — allowing colleagues to bring their whole selves to the discussion, even if they aren’t out in the workplace. At the same time, they can voluntarily provide data on their LGBTQIA+ status so you can hear their respective voices, possibly for the first time at scale.
Mercer Sirota also suggests using a range of diagnostic tools to assess relationships, rewards, workplace practices and strategic commitments — including cultural strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. This includes a normative analysis against benchmarks, intersectional analysis to search for identity-based employee cohorts, and advanced qualitative techniques like natural language processing and computational grounded theory to explore themes and patterns.
Finally, be sure you’re taking concrete steps that show employees you’re not simply paying lip service to their input. Commit to a regular discipline of listening to employees and rectifying problems to build a better organization and contribute to a more just world.
Ensure your benefits are helping to identify and address disparities in health, financial well-being and career-related benefits.
As we observed in a recent Mercer Marsh global benefits review, same-sex marriage is legal in at least 30 countries worldwide, yet benefits tend to be built for the heterosexual family structure. Most benefits are built on a presumption that families have two parents of opposite genders, with mothers shouldering most of the childcare burden. To be inclusive, employers must recognize that single-parent households, LGBTQ+ parents and blended families are becoming increasingly prevalent, and they must adapt their benefits accordingly. This includes incorporating family planning — such as surrogacy and in vitro fertilization (IVF) — for all kinds of families. Data from our forthcoming 2021 Global Inclusive Benefits Survey shows that only 20% of companies globally currently provide IVF benefits, and only 5.6% provide them for LGBTQIA+ couples. What’s more, only 13% of companies offer adoption benefits, and just 5% provide surrogacy in at least one country in which they operate.
Be sure to evaluate both the availability of and satisfaction with benefits through an intersectional lens to prevent overlooking shortfalls in reaching and caring for key populations in your organization. For example, only 23% of the companies provide transgender care, according our forthcoming 2021 Global Inclusive Benefits Survey.
Our collective journey toward diversity, equity and inclusion is — first and foremost — a journey of learning. If you cannot bring your leaders along in their understanding, your efforts will be doomed to failure.
Too often, companies can become caught up in performative allyship that lacks insight or accountability and rings false. To shape real action and make actual progress, you must train people managers and leaders in DEI — making room for empathy, increasing understanding of microaggressions, and creating mentoring and peer-learning opportunities for your employees. This must be an ongoing program and not one-off training. Consider allyship training and promote DEI learning and awareness with multiple touchpoints throughout the year (for example, during onboarding, performance management and promotion reviews, and learning and development opportunities). This will help to build awareness and strengthen your organizational understanding of DEI.
Be sure your efforts to create allyship do not overburden underrepresented groups, such as your LGBTQIA+ employees. Although employees from these groups often show a willingness to support their companies’ DEI strategies, they should not be left to carry the burden or be overtaxed or unrecognized in those efforts.
One of the most critical indicators for a DEI program’s success is its level of accountability, which starts with establishing and championing a clear DEI strategy from the top. We must move beyond simple diversity targets and focus on how leaders can influence a more qualitative employee experience of DEI.
When diversity programs fail, it’s usually down to piecemeal solutions or stopgap measures used in place of more coherent strategies or broad interventions. Meaningful culture change requires commitment from senior leaders — and oversight to ensure real actions follow those commitments.
Mercer’s research shows that about half of managers are currently involved in DEI activities, up from 39% in 2016. But there are still significant gaps in training and support. Training managers in change communication helps foster an inclusive environment where all employees are engaged and feel a sense of belonging.
Managers and senior leadership can also be held accountable through increased transparency and by connecting visible DEI goals with executive incentives and compensation.
Are you excited by the potential for renewed effort on DEI in your company and looking to underscore your Pride celebrations this month with real action toward equity and inclusion?