As 2022 draws to an end, I find myself reflecting on all that has happened in the world this year, and its reverberations on workplaces across the globe. As we gear up for the holiday season, it is time to take stock and recalibrate our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies so they remain relevant – grounded in our local contexts and cognizant of the swirling external changes and forces that shape us.
So often our DEI work is internally oriented, focusing on the workforce. But maybe this is the moment to look outwards – to consider how the external ecosystem, with its multiple stakeholders, impacts DEI.
Shifting Work Patterns
Covid has continued to impact workplace dynamics. Employees have stopped to reassess what they really want from an employer. We are facing a global labor shortage, where people are leaving the workforce in droves, and that trend is continuing.
In 2021, 40% of employees said they were at least somewhat likely to leave their job in the next 3-6 months (1) and all indications are that this trend will continue into 2023. Companies have to be strategic about how they are going to compete for talent.
When employers were asked why they thought their people had quit, they cited compensation, work–life balance, and poor physical and emotional health. These issues did matter to employees—just not as much as employers thought they did.
People said they left because they didn’t feel valued and didn’t feel a sense of belonging. And those who are under-represented in terms of race or ethnicity were more likely to say they had left because they didn’t feel they belonged at their companies.(2) Women who are “onlys” – often one of the only women in the room at work—have especially difficult day-to-day experiences. And we see that in the statistics - they are leaving their jobs at record rates.
Meanwhile, organizations are struggling to figure out the best way to provide the flexibility that employees became accustomed to during lockdown while encouraging a return to in-person presence in offices. The result has been a hybrid approach, but with this hybrid approach comes both new opportunities for inclusive policies, but also a danger of exacerbating inequities.
The risk is that hybrid systems can lead to two tiers of employees, with different opportunities for advancement. Some positions lend themselves to remote working, while others do not, setting up differing flexible options to employees within the same organization. Those who choose flexibility – frequently women – may lose access to networks, mentoring and other opportunities.
How have your workplace dynamics shifted this year and what is the impact on DEI?
Setbacks for Women
In the US, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, paving the way for 14 states to make abortion inaccessible or illegal, with a number of other states battling out abortion bans in the courts.
12 of those States have banned all abortions with no exceptions – joining just 24 (6%) other countries with such strict abortion laws. The US is one of only 4 countries to remove protections for legal abortion in the last twenty-five years.(3) This will have a knock-on effect in workplaces as women face limited choices that will directly impact their career advancement. Research shows that “the gender pay gap begins to widen once women become mothers.”(4) After abortion was legalized in the United States, women “were much more likely to finish college, pursue higher degrees, spend longer in the labor force, and enter higher-paying occupations.”(5)
Organizations face important decisions about what stand they will take in a divided nation and what new policies and benefits they will put in place to support women’s choices, single mothers and non-traditional families. As importantly, organizations need to measure the impact of motherhood on women’s career trajectories and double down on their efforts to facilitate women’s return to work after having children.
And those career trajectories can be experienced differently by BIPOC women from their White women counterparts. Organizations need to collect data points on women of color specifically. It is not enough to look at all women together – we need to parse our data, get granular and look at the career trajectory of different groups of women because experiences and obstacles differ among different identities, and so the solutions need to be tailored and specific.
What will your organization do to stand up for ALL women in 2023?
Advances and Setbacks for the LGBTQ+ Community
On 21 August 2022, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Government would end criminalization of sex between men by repealing a colonial-era law while protecting the city-state's traditional norms and its definition of marriage.
This was a giant step for LGBTQ rights and a pathway for organizations to ensure the safety of their LGBTQ employees in Singapore.
Meanwhile, however, Indonesia has just outlawed extramarital sex, and the World Cup is being hosted in Qatar, a country that has come under scrutiny not only for human rights violations of migrant workers, poor labor rights and human trafficking, but also for its mistreatment of LGBTQ people.(6) As the World Cup opened, FIFA forbade teams to wear One Love armbands in protest. Companies and sponsors have had to make tough decisions about whether to continue to support the World Cup, and these decisions (and non-decisions) can take a toll on employees.
Now, more than ever, the world needs organizations to step up and take bold stands- to stand up publicly for their values, and to lead the way. We need to recognize that what we say out in the world impacts our employees: it affects how safe they feel at work, their sense of belonging, and their loyalty to their organization.
Is your organization ready to take bold public stands to advance DEI in our communities, society and world?
Refugees and Immigrants
The Russo-Ukrainian war and the outpouring of Ukrainian refugees has prompted organizations to examine their disparate approach to refugees and immigrants.
The welcome extended to Ukrainian refugees differs considerably to the barriers erected to those from Afghanistan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Mexico, Guatemala, Sudan and elsewhere. The disparity provides an opportunity to more honestly examine how race shapes public empathy and government policy. War and the structural violence of poverty continues to disproportionately impact black and brown people around the world, and yet in many countries DEI teams find it difficult to address race directly – because it is taboo, or local legislation prohibits collecting data on race. Addressing the refugee and immigration crisis by providing employment opportunities can provide a gateway to tackle conversations about race and ethnic minorities.
What can your organization do to welcome refugees and immigrants from all countries?
This is a time of enormous political divisiveness worldwide. In Brazil and in France, the people chose socialist or centrist candidates over right-wing populist candidates and in the US the mid-term elections brought back the Democrats to the Senate, while a far right-wing leader became Italy’s first female prime minister.
Political divisions have taken on global proportions, with inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation fueling discord and, in some instances, instigating violence. Employees bring these divisions and competing world views and values into the workplace, and it can create a strong backlash against DEI efforts. There is a growing need for opportunities that allow employees to share their experiences and perspectives with one another without vilifying the other side. Organizations have the challenge of building an inclusive culture that allows all people the chance to grow and change through storytelling and deep listening. To be successful, DEI needs to bring people along, and meet people where they are. But companies need to balance this with clear no-tolerance policies on racist, sexist, or homophobic rhetoric on internal communication channels.
How is your organization preparing to navigate political divisions and address inflammatory political rhetoric?
A Surge in Mass Shootings and Hate Crime
As of the end of November, the US had 39 mass shootings in 2022 – with an unprecedented surge after October 2nd. This has been the deadliest year for mass shootings in the United States.(7)
Too many of these shootings targeted people because of their sexual orientation, race or religion. According to the FBI, hate crime has increased four out of the five past years.(8) These acts of hate are fueled by social media and terrorize large groups of people.
Just 12 hours after Elon Musk’s October 27, 2022, acquisition of Twitter the social media platform saw shocking spikes in the use of racist, antisemitic, homophobic, and transphobic posts. The use of the N-word increased by 500%, antisemitic symbols flooded twitter feeds, and thousands of accounts began coordinating anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and threats.(9)(10) Those participating in this surge of hate rhetoric thanked Musk for creating an environment where they could “ramp up” their efforts.(11) Many organizations committed to social justice, including mine, have decided to withdraw from Twitter.
Organizations need to be aware of the impact of the rhetoric and these hate crimes on their employees and on their sense of safety. How organizations and colleagues respond can have an enormous impact on employees’ sense of belonging and connection to their workplace.
How is your organization responding to reports of hate crime and mass shootings?
The times we live in are challenging us to step up and step out more boldly, with a clarity of leadership and vision. How can we not only improve our organizational work environments, but also help to build a more inclusive world?
Many of these trends will continue into 2023. We need to remember that what we do within our own workforce has a ripple effect in society. Likewise, the stands we take publicly and our contributions to our communities have reverberations throughout our workforce and our business. 93% of consumers say companies have a responsibility to look beyond profit to positively impact society.(12) 87% of consumers believe companies should advocate for human rights.(13)
Let 2023 be the year when we truly rise to these challenges and seek out the opportunities they are offering us to be courageous, inspiring and responsible inhabitants of this planet we all call home.
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(1) McKinsey Quarterly, September 2021, “‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours.”
(2) McKinsey Quarterly, September 2021, “‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours.”