DE&I leaders are getting more funding and responsibility, but challenges persist

Compared to 2019, DE&I leadership roles have gained more leadership and resources, but face a declining talent pipeline, according to a United Minds and Weber Shandwick study.

Corporate focus on diversity, equity and inclusion has increased significantly since 2019, according to a study from United Minds, Weber Shandwick and KRC Research. 

The study, which surveyed 227 senior DE&I professionals globally, found that compared to 2019, U.S.-based DE&I leads are 2.6 times more likely to hold c-suite positions and oversee 4.5 times larger teams.

Globally, budgets for DE&I have also grown, with 77% of respondents reporting budgets over $10 million and 39% reporting budgets over $50 million, a 26% increase over 2019. 

The renewed focus directly correlates to the racial reckoning of 2020 and the murder of George Floyd, said Tai Wingfield, EVP and head of diversity and inclusion at United Minds. 

“A lot [of the results] were reassuring and reaffirming just how critical the role of diversity leaders are within organizations,” she said. 

Among senior DE&I leaders, 94% agree that the political and social environment has impacted their company’s diversity efforts. Over the past year, for instance, 90% of senior DE&I leaders in the U.S. say they have increased their responsibilities, investment and resources. They have also seen their scope of work grow, and their company has changed its reporting structure to support DE&I leaders. 

More than half of leaders also agree they feel increased allyship from within their organizations, with significant increases in support from IT and finance departments. 

Employee resource groups continue to be strong drivers of DE&I efforts, with 100% of senior DE&I leaders believing that such groups benefit employees. 

Despite the progress, there’s much work still to be done. 

For instance, 78% of senior leaders agree that DE&I isn’t prioritized by their organization unless there is a visible perception or societal problem, and only 45% strongly agree that their role is seen as a “must-have” by leadership. 

More than half of senior DE&I leaders report dealing with discrimination, harassment and  microaggressions on the job, leading to turnover in the role. Per the study, 43% of respondents attribute turnover at least in part to dissatisfaction with the level of support for DE&I from the organization. 

But efforts to build an inclusive workplace continue, says Wingfield, and company leadership can play a part by clearly communicating the journey to their teams. 

“Our job as communicators and change experts is to continue to focus on transparency and accountability,” she said. “Progress can be made, but making a complete shift to 50%  diverse employees and 50% gender parity takes a long time.” 

She added that employees say it’s critical for leadership to engage them in the journey to “demonstrate that the organization is prioritizing DE&I and holding itself accountable by being transparent about the commitments they're making and the steps that they're taking.” 

As for the future of DE&I, 82% of senior DE&I leaders support efforts to build a diverse, inclusive and equitable culture within their organization, and a majority (84%) are optimistic about the future of DE&I in the U.S.

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