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The Buzz: Defending DEI Against Recent Backlash

The Buzz: Defending DEI Against Recent Backlash

December 2023

From 2019 to 2022, a LinkedIn study shows, jobs for chief diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officers rose by almost 170%. But this post-George Floyd acceleration did not last long. Layoffs soon followed, and at a disproportionately high rate.

Revelio Labs, an HR consulting firm, reports that several large companies have had sharp declines in diverse new hires. Quoting Revelio, Gene Marks of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm, writes in The Hill that more than 300 DEI professionals left their roles in the second half of 2022.

The backlash against these programs has set in, with critics questioning the need for such investments in a sluggish economy and citing the salaries some of these executives make. Salary.com reports that the average chief DEI officer in the U.S. earns $235,000 a year, with some universities paying their hires as much as $430,000.

A Useful Trend?

Marks, who is not a critic of DEI programs but a proponent, sees this turbulence as part of a trend that, in the long run, will prove useful. “Hiring diversity is happening and will continue to happen,” he writes. “But it won’t happen overnight no matter how much money you throw at it. Business executives are now learning this fact. [Rather than cutting back on their DEI investments, they are] changing how they’re investing. They’re doing this because of a slowing economy and a few years of evaluating the return on investment in their DEI executives.”

This is cold comfort to DEI executives who have been laid off, obviously, and discouraging to employees of the companies that have made these cuts. A June survey by The Muse found that a decision to pull back on its diversity commitments made workers “more likely to look for a new job over the next 12 months,” LaTricia Woods writes in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics. “In addition, 82% said that their company’s decision to scale back diversity commitments has made them less engaged in their work.”

The Business Case

To fix the problem, Paolo Gaudiano of Aleria Research Corp. writes in Forbes, proponents of DEI programs must do a better job persuading CEOs that they are more than a “nice-to-have,” by developing more sophisticated methods of making the business case for these investments. Proponents need to learn how “to demonstrate quantitatively how our activities link to corporate KPIs, and help figure out how to implement the changes we propose,” Gaudiano writes.

‘[Rather than cutting back on their DEI investments, business leaders are] changing how they’re investing. They’re doing this because of a slowing economy and a few years of evaluating the return on investment in their DEI executives.’

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