Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts in the workplace are vital to the success of best-in-class organizations. In 2020, the coronavirus global health event, economic uncertainty and high-profile racial justice events are all issues that have informed the direction of DEI initiatives, and these factors will likely influence DEI trends in the coming year as well.
Here we will highlight several areas where business leaders should focus their DEI efforts in 2021 to ensure that their organizations are characterized by fairness, compassion and equal opportunity.
1. Redefining leadership
With more employees working from home (WFH), business leaders will need to build on their emotional intelligence and other soft skills. As WFH continues, the most successful business leaders will continue pivoting to help employees navigate any challenging new circumstances that may be affecting their daily work. For example, it has been demonstrated that the coronavirus global health event has disproportionately impacted women — particularly women of color, who are leaving the workforce to raise and support their families.
Supervisors must remain cognizant of these trends and put support structures in place to assist their employees through these times. Of course, employees should still be held accountable for their work, but business leaders can help by empathizing with their employees’ individual situations and supporting them in a personalized way.
2. Rehumanizing work
Business leaders will also need to draw upon their emotional intelligence skills to manage employees effectively in 2021. Highly publicized events like the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery show that meaningful change is needed and that organizations must do more to combat racial inequality in the workplace and in the world at large.
Best-in-class organizations do so by having open and honest conversations with their employees about societal issues that may be affecting them. These discussions can create space for employees to process what’s going on and express what it means to them, which can give everyone a chance to connect with each other and their leaders on a human level.
DEI practitioners can support these conversations by training leaders, from the CEO down, on how to take an understanding and empathetic approach to discussions with their colleagues. To that end, it may be helpful to create a DEI task force with buy-in and regular support from senior leaders. Tool kits designed to help facilitate conversations around sensitive issues could also be shared with business leaders.
Taking time to ensure that your employees are able to voice their concerns and be heard is essential to sustaining a culture of equality, inclusion and belonging. When differences of perspective and circumstance are accepted and thoughtfully addressed in the workplace, employees will feel a sense of belonging and know that their organization wants to understand and support them.
3. Diversity among teams
Another DEI matter business leaders should focus on in 2021 is building diverse teams within their organizations, particularly in remote work settings. Numerous studies have shown that diverse teams, on average, outperform more homogeneous ones and tend to generate 20-30% more revenue than less diverse organizations and teams.
Diversity in business can bring underrepresented thoughts and experiences to the table, inspiring increased creativity and innovation within teams. For this reason, building diverse, equitable and inclusive teams will remain imperative to business success.
4. Closing gaps
Other issues that need to be on the radar of DEI and business leaders include gender equity, pay parity, flexible work arrangements, and added emphasis on physical, mental and financial health initiatives. Organizations must look to close any inequity gaps present in their business, whether they are based on gender, ethnicity or any other factor.
These efforts should also extend beyond the walls of the business. We are starting to see an increased focus on supporting small, minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses, and my hope is that this trend will continue. These businesses form the backbone of our country and our economy, so it is in the best interest of all organizations to close equity gaps and create a more open and prosperous business environment. Organizations would do well to be on the right side of this trend in 2021 and beyond.
There will be an increased number of diversity, equity and inclusion practices in the workplace trends to account for in 2021, and issues stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and social injustice will continue to add stressors to the mix. To position their organization to tackle these issues effectively, DEI-focused business leaders will need to determine what goals their business should set and what resources they will need to achieve them.