How to save DEIB from budget cuts: Keep it hidden in plain sight

Smart HR leaders maintain DEIB priorities and budgets by folding it into day-to-day operations, says HRD Carla Yudhishthu

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Jul 12, 2023

As mass layoffs and budget cuts tear through businesses, every department – from finance to facilities – is searching for ways to preserve the initiatives they find most important to them.

In HR, the initiative most under pressure is diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).

For even before there was pressure on budgets, Covid-19 meant that between 2020-2022, DEIB was already dropping down many employers’ priority lists.

In 2020, for example, 48% of HR and compliance decision-makers named DEIB among their organization’s top five priorities. This was according to a survey of 2,644 decision-makers conducted by Mineral and The Fossicker Group, a Dallas-based research firm.

However, by 2022, this had fallen to 34% in 2022, and only 16% of the businesses that highly prioritized DEIB in 2020 say it remains a top five priority today.

There are other issues at play too.

Budget constraints might well be one reason, but what’s not on the balance sheet is the increasingly divisive US social and political landscape.

As a result, some business leaders now view DEIB as an inflammatory topic – one that that has the potential to divide their workforce or paint their organization in a political light.

They also find it hard to measure the impact and track the progress of their DEIB programs because the results are often intangible.

If HR wants to maintain DEIB initiatives, it needs to be more strategic

What we’re witnessing however, is how the smartest HR leaders are protecting their DEIB efforts by weaving such programs ever-more tightly into everyday business operations.

These HR leaders are seeking to build and expand a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace by being more strategic about how to maintain some of the DEIB initiatives they value.

While no measures can replace meaningful monetary investment in DEIB, these leaders have found a way to keep DEIB alive in their organizations, rather than letting their initiatives fray due to tight finances and negative perceptions.

So how are they doing this?

These leaders have not necessarily solved the challenges that put DEIB initiatives in danger.

DEIB still requires tireless effort and because it can be hard to measure and articulate the immediate impact of effort in this space, keeping DEIB alive has become increasingly challenging in budget meetings.

However, some leaders have discovered that, rather than isolating DEIB through a dedicated line item, they can save the initiatives by doing the opposite: integrating it – everywhere.

In making DEIB part of the company’s fabric, they are also pushing toward the ultimate goal – making DEIB an authentic part of organizational culture.

There are a number of budget-resistant strategies HR leaders are using to maintain DEIB’s visibility by hiding it in plain sight:

They’re embedding it into he organizational culture

The idea of implementing a “DEIB initiative” can feel daunting to employees and executive stakeholders, so HR leaders are incorporating DEIB values into everyday business practices and company culture.

Rather than being discussed among small groups in hushed tones, leaders are focusing on the “belonging” part of the DEIB work, and discussions about “belonging” have become part of regular team meetings, including relevant books, podcasts, and articles, as well as employees’ lived experiences.

These discussions don’t have to take hours, but they ensure DEIB becomes part of an organization’s everyday culture and sensibilities, because it is hard to argue with the need for employees to have a sense of belonging.

They’re integrating it into employee training

Many companies rely on personality assessments to maintain team cohesion and communication when hiring new talent.

These assessments commonly spark employee self-awareness about their own behavioral and communication preferences, and also help teach them how to productively engage with employees who have different preferences.

However, using such tools beyond the recruiting phase allows teams to share and learn more about different working and communication styles – giving organic opportunities for learning to help foster awareness, acceptance, and support when working with diverse teammates.

They’re creating employee resource groups (ERGs)

Rather than implementing new DEIB initiatives from the top down, thoughtful HR leaders are providing a framework and support for employees to form employee resource groups (ERGs).

This grassroots approach helps give employees a sense of community by creating affinity groups such as neurodiverse employees, LGBTQIA+, and other racialized and marginalized groups.

Though these are grassroots initiatives, organizations that want to maximize their impact should invest in the success of their ERGs.

Companies with active ERGs are finding their employees experience a deeper sense of belonging and agency, which achieves the primary goal of DEIB initiatives in a cost-efficient and homespun way. This allows employees to support, educate, and learn from their colleagues in a way that’s consistent and respectful.

They’re making it measurable

Instead of making DEIB an add-on assignment (or worse, a performative one for “extra credit”), companies are incorporating DEIB into employee job descriptions.

Just like any other aspect of an employees’ job, businesses are setting annual DEIB goals and appropriately reviewing and acknowledging employee performance for how they contribute to reaching those goals.

This makes DEIB part of organizational norms, and makes caring about diversity and belonging a fundamental expectation of all employees.

Keep DEIB hidden in plain sight

HR professionals can’t save every initiative when budget cuts and layoffs occur, but this doesn’t mean practitioners don’t have strategic tools to maintain the values, focus, and investment to make DEIB successful according to business metrics that matter to them.

Proven success is ultimately the most effective way to budget-proof any initiative.

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