6 ways diversity and inclusion will change this year

The founder of a DEI consultancy says get ready for a year of uncomfortable conversations, as it will be the everyday work of allies that will make the difference over the long term.

The year 2020 brought a global reckoning on race unlike anything we’ve witnessed in modern history. Diversity trainings followed the missteps of organizations and CEOs. Corporate social responsibility programs pledged their allegiance to the Black community and poured millions into civil rights and social justice organizations. New vocabulary words built a glossary of terms like microaggression, systemic racism, and privilege. And books on antiracism took up seemingly permanent residence on the New York Times bestsellers list.

When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), knowledge of the problem isn’t enough. In order to begin to see true change, we’ll have to roll up our sleeves and get to the messy, everyday work of inclusion. Last year was about awareness and education of racist systems: studying terms, memorizing acronyms, and labeling behaviors. This will be the year where we put our newfound knowledge into action.

Here are a few ways we’ll see DEI transform this year.

REMOTE WORK WILL BE MORE COMMON

Last spring, tech founder Jack Dorsey sent shock waves through the business community when he announced that employees at both Twitter and Square would have the option to work from home forever. As an inclusion and diversity consultant, I was encouraged to see such large companies viewing remote work as a viable option as it broadens the talent pool and creates more opportunities for inclusive working and hiring practices.

The global pandemic forced many companies to adopt “work-from-home indefinitely” policies, even those companies that had traditionally shied away from remote work arrangements. But while a handful of companies made permanent changes to how their employees are able to show up for work at the start of the pandemic, thousands more companies with permanent remote work capabilities didn’t offer it as a serious long-term option.

The pandemic has proven that remote work works. Many people have been working remotely for months due to COVID-19, and employers are realizing it’s both practical and cost-effective. To their surprise, employees were in many cases more productive than they were when coming to the office.

This undeniable glimpse into the utility and cost-effectiveness of remote work will undoubtedly lead more companies to save on office rent and give their workers a longer leash. With opportunities to work remotely, more potential employees will be able to contribute their talents. And with more potential employees now available to contribute their talents, the talent pool will instantly diversify and become more inclusive.

WORKFORCE DIVERSITY WILL CHANGE

Beyond being effective, remote work has opened up some amazing opportunities for inclusion. For example, people who can’t afford vehicles or transportation to work are suddenly able to “travel” to their jobs. Companies that struggled to attract or retain diverse talent due to location can suddenly hire talent from around the globe. Physically disabled talent can work from their accommodating homes instead of needing to go into a workplace.

Suddenly, the ability to consider who qualifies as a candidate for a role and how to attract and retain them has taken on a whole new inclusive meaning. In part due to the global access to talent that remote work offers, and in part due to the global reckoning on race, hiring managers will have to demonstrate a more diverse representation of talent. Long gone are the days of the pipeline problem where “there are no qualified Black/Latinx/female talent in this area,” was an excuse considered viable enough to forgo diversifying candidate slates and intentional, inclusive hiring.

A word of caution on remote work diversifying talent pools, though. Bias, both unconscious and conscious, is still in play and remote work allows it to take many forms. As interviews become largely virtual, discrimination against candidates on the basis of skin color and accents can still happen, but other judgments like background visuals and sounds can take center stage. Also, similarity bias—our tendency to be drawn to people similar to us—can still play a part in assessing talent while remote. Employers should be prepared to be mindful of new biases that may arise as a result of remote work becoming more frequent.

INCLUSION WILL BECOME ACTIONABLE AND QUANTITATIVE

While many companies have yet to hop on the training bandwagon, those forward-thinking corporations that have already dedicated significant dollars towards DEI and belonging initiatives will move away from formalized training, and towards more behavior and results-driven actions.

We’ll begin to see inclusivity showing up in the workplace in more impactful ways, for example, on performance appraisals tied to bonuses and compensation. Look for diversity and inclusion numbers to show up on annual reports that detail company spending and donation reports that tell the story of each company’s commitment to social responsibility.

NON-INCLUSIVE COMPANY CULTURES WILL IMPACT CONSUMERS’ LOYALTY

While some have argued that there’s no business case for inclusion, savvy marketers have long known that customer loyalty is tied closely to perceived company values.

Like many other companies last year, Nike’s earnings took a hit during COVID-19 as a result of reduced consumer spending due to the pandemic. But the brand is arguably stronger due in part to its affiliation with Black Lives Matter and its early support of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

When it comes to social issues, consumers are paying attention. Now more than ever, consumers are willing to put their money where their values are.

MARKETING WILL SHOWCASE GREATER DIVERSITY

Noninclusive hiring practices and in-store harassment aren’t the only places people of color feel slighted. Recently, beauty retailer Sephora introduced an action plan aimed at mitigating racially-based experiences in the U.S. retail environment. According to the study on Racial Bias in Retail commissioned by Sephora, three in four retail shoppers (74%) feel that marketing fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types, and hair textures, while two in three (65%) think stores fail to deliver an equally distributed assortment of products catering to different shoppers’ tastes and preferences.

In 2021, we will see marketing and advertising campaigns reflect a range of consumer diversity especially among apparel and consumer packaged goods. Companies will be forced to address their customers’ desire to see themselves reflected before making buying decisions.

MORE ALLIES AND ADVOCATES WILL EMERGE TO CALL OUT RACISM AT WORK

After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last May, people young and old, Black and white marched in solidarity to protest racism in America. But while the murder of an unarmed citizen is undeniably unjust, everyday acts of racism happen all around us—especially at work.

As a diversity consultant to Fortune 100 companies, I’ve trained over 25,000 people in the last two years on inclusive practices, including how to be effective allies to people of color. I’m hearing more from white colleagues who want to know what they can say to call out racism when they see it at work, in their communities, and even in their homes.

As I shared in my book Allies and Advocates, as more people continue to emerge and speak out against racism in America, we’ll see more people emboldened to call out injustice at work. Prepare for a year of uncomfortable conversations, as it will be the everyday work of allies that will make the difference over the long term.


Amber Cabral is the author of Allies and Advocates and a diversity and inclusion consultant to major retailers and the Fortune 500 at her company CabralCo.

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