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Feb 1, 2023

With today marking the start of Black History Month, there’s one thing HRDs won’t want less of in 2023: focus on diversity and inclusion.

With statistics that show two-thirds of workers would consider looking for a new job if they discovered their employer had an unfair gender pay gap or no diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy, there’s not a HRD that isn’t on safe ground for insisting their organizations take the DE&I agenda more seriously.

ADP report, People at Work 2022: A Global Workforce View (which polled 33,000 workers in 17 countries), finds workplace diversity (or diversity inclusion and belonging as it is sometimes known), is the top concern for employees, with staff increasingly looking to their leadership to know what they are doing about it.

So what’s the response been?

Well, unsurprisingly, there’s been a huge uptick in the number of organization wanting to recruit heads of DE&I or DE&I directors.

Research by LinkedIn in 2020 found that he number of people with the title ‘head of diversity’ more than doubled worldwide between 2015 and 2020. Between September 2019-2020, job portal, Indeed, found overall job postings for diversity, inclusion and belonging rose 56.3%, from 140 jobs per million to 219. It’s in the US though – fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement – job postings have increased even faster – by an astonishing 123% between May and September.

Taking all things together, America is, in fact, one of the world’s leaders for the penetration of diversity roles – with 0.73 diversity roles per 10,000 employees. Only the UK and Australia rank higher globally.

In 2020 the most common diversity role in the LinkedIn universe was ‘diversity manager’ (4,297 had this job title), followed by director of diversity (2,502), diversity officer (1,594) and head of diversity (1.035).

But if all this points to a glittering period of real, and deep cultural change ahead, one expert is not so sure.

Jeffrey Bowman, is a former senior partner and MD at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather – where he created the industry’s first cross-cultural practice, Ogilvy Culture. Now CEO and the founder of Reframe – a company that modernizes DEI experiences for the likes of Verizon and Razorfish – Bowman is critical of the power of DE&I heads to actually make change happen. Crucially, he doesn’t so much doubt the skills of diversity directors; rather their ability to drive actual change.

DE&I needs to be about ‘change’

In an exclusive interview with TLNT he argued DE&I professionals typically do integration, but actual change is something quite different: “DE&I has got locked into thinking it can create ‘change’ in organizations,” he says. “But the reality is that DE&I professionals don’t actually have the resources or the toolkit to actually properly drive the change that they are paid to do.”

The reason, he says, is a lack of ability to do real change management. “DE&I professionals are not in the practice of doing change management,” he suggests. On it’s own this might be dispiriting, but he adds: “Not only is this what they’re ‘not’ equipped with, it’s something they ‘shouldn’t’ be equipped with either.”

He says: “Change is a separate practice. DE&I professionals have a toolbox for integration. It’s a scorecard, an indication of where the organization is going. But it’s not a toolbox that’s useful for actual change. To transform an organization, change management practice is needed, not integration practice.”

Are DE&I professionals able to make change happen?

At first glance, these comments might appear to be a kick in the teeth to those DE&I directors who genuinely feel their remit is to create change.

But research around the topic does indicate Bowman has a point. According to management consulting firm Russell Reynolds, the majority of chief diversity officer at S&P 500 companies have experience in HR or other D&I roles – including 33% who have experience in organizational development/learning and development; 31% in marketing/sales; 30% in talent acquisition; 25% in corporate social responsibility; and 16% in legal/compliance.

These are not people that have a proven a track record in transformation, and perhaps this is why staff themselves are actually not as satisfied with their diversity chiefs as perhaps they should be.

And here’s what this arguably translates to in practice. Last month a national survey of 1,000 US employees by QuestionPro Workforce and EQ Community found only 60% said they were satisfied with DEI efforts at their company.

Specific areas of dissatisfaction included last of action being taken to foster it (57%).

Enterprise impact needed

Says Bowman: “DE&I frameworks were created when minorities really were minorities. But these are outdated now. We need to go beyond integration of people, but the problem is a problem of creating enterprise-wide impact”

He adds: “Companies create a bias towards the chief CE&I officer to do this, because that’s who’s been there to do it. The issue is can they create these outcomes? In my view it’s only possible to drive the right outcomes through the right practice. Change management is a totally different approach, that looks at maturity models, and which can permeate change at all touch points. DE&I fails here, because these professionals don’t often have that buy-in from the rest of the business.”

But isn’t the answer just that DE&I takes on a change management approach?

Bowman suggests it’s not that simple: “They still don’t have the enterprise impact. It’s not a fair fight,” he says. “I’m not advocating for the exclusion of DE&I professionals, but more for the pivot of the practice to happen. It’s this that should be used to achieve the outcomes companies desire.”

Do you agree?

Whether you buy into this thought process or not, Bowman’s deconstruction of the ‘DE&I problem’ is certainly well considered.

But what do you think?

Are DE&I professionals fooling themselves if they think they can create long-lasting change by doing what they’ve always done?

Do they really need specific change management expertise to make DE&I company-wide.

We want to hear your views! If you agree, disagree, or have another point of view, we’d love to know.

Send us you’re thoughts, and we’ll pull together the best responses we get in a later article.

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