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Toward Equity: We’re Making Progress — Or Are We?

Toward Equity: We’re Making Progress — Or Are We?

April 2023

It can hardly be news that bosses and their underlings don’t always see eye-to-eye. That has been the case from time immemorial. But two new surveys from Gallup highlight an area of disagreement that, if not addressed, will surely deepen this divide, to the detriment of employers, employees, the organizations they work for and — arguably — the society in which they operate.

The area in question is DEI or, as Gallup calls it, DEIB, the “B” referring to “belonging.” HR execs — chief human resources officers (CHROs) — believe their companies are doing a great job making employees feel safe, secure, respected and valued. But according to Gallup, which conducted the surveys in the spring of 2022, the employees themselves say, “Not so much.”

Almost 84% of the 122 CHROs of large companies surveyed say their organizations’ investment in DEIB programs is increasing. They are providing training for managers, making systematic efforts to identify and eliminate unconscious bias, and offering mentoring and sponsorship programs, among other initiatives. They are creating safe spaces for employees and seem to feel optimistic about their progress.

At the same time, however, a second Gallup survey — this one of employees — suggests that these efforts either aren’t working or are woefully insufficient.

Do They Even Care?

“Only 31% of employees say their organization is committed to improving racial justice or equality in their workplace,” one of the Gallup researchers writes in the Harvard Business Review. “Even fewer (25%) say issues of race and equity are openly discussed where they work, with 37% saying they participated in a training program on D&I, and 30% saying they participated in a town hall on the subject.” Only 24% of workers say their employer even cares about their well-being.

And discrimination persists, though employees are more likely to feel the sting than leaders are. Sixteen percent (16%) of employees say they have experienced discrimination in the past 12 months, but only 5% of CHROs report such an experience.

High Levels of Subjectivity

Clearly, much work remains to be done, but because high levels of subjectivity are involved, this won’t be easy. “A culture of belonging is one where everyone feels accepted for who they are,” the HBR reports. “This is an area of strength for many workplaces: 41% of employees feel comfortable being themselves at work. However, only 27% of HR leaders believe employees at their organizations feel comfortable being themselves at work.”

Where subjectivity comes into play is in the attitudes being surveyed. What does it really mean for a person to feel “accepted for who they are” or feel comfortable “being themselves”? When people are surveyed about their feelings, the terms under discussion will inevitably be vague and subject to interpretation — and open to dispute.

For additional progress to be made — progress in understanding the issues and in solving the problems — such vague expressions might require further definition. As they say in academic circles, more research is indicated.

toward equity

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