These results can serve as a warning about the potential damage to organizations’ employer brands in a challenging talent market. When workers don’t trust organizational commitments to DEI, they are more likely to consider quitting and not referring others, and prospective hires are more likely to not apply for open roles.16
Beyond the workforce, breaches in DEI-related trust can trigger actions that impact relationships with other stakeholders and firm performance. For example, consumers often make decisions about whether to purchase a product based on their perceptions of employee treatment and DEI commitments. One recent study notes that 28% of respondents would stop doing business with a company that treats its employees poorly, and 25% would stop if the company didn’t commit to DEI.17 Investors are also are paying attention to organizational corporate social responsibility programs, which often include DEI. A growing body of research acknowledges that investment risk is lower for organizations that adhere to ethical principles.18
Adopt a holistic, collaborative approach that will stand the test of time
Leaders responsible for building a DEI strategy and delivering on its commitments know the work and resources that have gone into the journey so far, and they’ve shown they can build considerable trust with their workers. But how can organizations maintain that trust―not dropping the ball, reducing attention to DEI efforts in the face of other emerging issues, or extending their promises past the point that they can deliver?
We asked respondents to offer ideas on how their organizations can build trusted DEI programs over time, and who within the organization should be accountable for different elements of a successful program. Their perspectives and recommendations include the below points.
Increase and maintain worker trust by demonstrating competence and intent
We gave respondents a blank slate to tell us what their organizations could do to directly increase their employees’ trust in their organization’s commitment to meaningful DEI outcomes. We found that more than 20% of those surveyed believe their organization is on the right path and mainly needs to keep pushing on current efforts, and 70% of respondents identify several different opportunities for their companies and leaders to consider. We then categorized the suggestions under the broader elements of trust: competence and intent.
Nearly half of workers who participated in our research want to see their organizations take more focused action to build greater trust in organizational DEI efforts. Some of the most frequent recommendations on competence were:
- Solicit input and involvement from all employees throughout program phases and cycles
- Set clear, well-researched goals, especially those that address challenges faced by diverse groups within the organization
- Commit funding for expertise, personnel, and programs that demonstrate and reflect the strategic importance of this work
- Increase accountability and demonstrate this by regularly communicating evidence of progress
- Stay committed in the long term to hiring, training, and promoting from diverse groups, including for leadership roles
Nearly a quarter of respondents in our survey are looking for organizations and their leaders to demonstrate a genuine commitment to DEI initiatives. Some of the most frequent recommendations were:
- Be honest and sincere about what you are doing and why
- Always be transparent when communicating motivations, progress, momentum, and even mistakes
- Support and model DEI goals and outcomes at the leadership level
- Create a psychologically safe environment in which people can speak freely about their experiences and thoughts
- Maintain focus on DEI even as other business imperatives arise, and show that you are doing so
Consider everyone’s role in moving from vision to results
Whether they are executive leaders, HR managers, functional or line managers, or staff, everyone has a role to play in supporting their organization’s DEI programs. Even the board plays a role—more than 90% of respondents agree. Our respondents categorized the different roles that leaders and workers have in DEI effort deployment. Some of these roles are particularly crucial in certain stages, whether it's sponsoring and setting the vision, providing expertise to further success, driving accountability for results, or participating and engaging with DEI initiatives. We see opportunities for people in these roles, during these key stages, to augment worker trust. We also think it’s important to note that each of these leaders or groups need not attempt to drive progress in a vacuum—nor should they. DEI programs with goals and metrics that are shared across business leaders and departments, outside the potential silos of the HR or DEI units, are often more successful.19
Collaborate at every stage
Figure 4 shows opportunities suggested by our analysis for how different stakeholders within the organization can play a part in DEI programs to enhance trust.