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Top 6 diversity, equity and inclusion trends in 2021

Since the events of 2020 related to social justice and equality, most employers around the world have been incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as a priority and as part of their organization strategy. Although the last few years have brought to the surface the need to prioritise DEI within organisations, the rapid changes in society have changed the way employers address diversity in the workplace. Most companies had to rethink their approach to diversity and inclusion. This article will share the top diversity, equity and inclusion trends that have emerged in the workplace in 2021.


1) Hiring diversity professionals (in-house and consultants)

According to a 2020 Glassdoor study, D&I job openings have rebounded 55 percent as racial justice took center stage with George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. D&I job openings had been on the rise for the past few years, however, when the COVID-19 crisis hit, D&I job openings declined. But job openings for D&I began to rebound, surging 50 percent in June 2020. Another interesting trend is that job openings for D&I executive and leadership roles such as “Chief Diversity Officer”, “Head of Diversity & Inclusion” and “Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion”, have more than doubled since June 2020, increasing 2.6 times. This signals that companies increasingly are making diversity and inclusion a priority at the highest levels. Companies are now hiring diversity professionals who have expertise in this complex field, as a strategy to make diversity and inclusion part of the company culture. Diversity and inclusion experts, consultants, keynote speakers and researchers are hired because they bring the necessary skills, experience and independent approach required to transform organisations culture into inclusive and collaborative workplaces. Diversity consultants can be deployed successfully in organisations of all sizes, including those with sizable diversity and inclusion teams and those with none at all. They can be chosen from large consulting practices or as specialized independent contractors, bringing flexibility to the organisation. “Diversity officers don’t necessarily come out of any diversity discipline; they often have backgrounds in HR or management,” says Christopher Metzler, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Studies program at Cornell University. “Consultants can essentially coach in-house diversity professionals through unique projects or unfamiliar situations.” If you want to keep up to date with the latest diversity and inclusion trends, follow me on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Youtube.

2) Supporting diverse gender identity and gender expression

2021 has been the year that celebrated diverse gender identities and gender expressions like never before, raising awareness about gender identity and expression in the public eye. In 2021, many organisations have shared guides to understanding gender identity and pronouns, including NPR, who published A Guide To Gender Identity Terms. "Pronouns are basically how we identify ourselves apart from our name. It's how someone refers to you in conversation," says Mary Emily O'Hara, a communications officer at GLAAD. "And when you're speaking to people, it's a really simple way to affirm their identity." “I think the language is finally evolving to represent the actual diversity of experience that exists,” Psychology Professor Phillip Hammack said, when publishing his latest paper in March 2021, in the Journal of Adolescent Research, shedding light on the social factors that can either hinder or support expression of diversity in sexual and gender identity among teens and young adults. “On the one hand, teens seem much more liberated and have a much more expansive vocabulary than previous generations, but you also still have these unresolved issues around things like masculinity. So that was the real shock to me.” Globally, businesses have been trying to keep up with these dynamics by adopting inclusive practices (giving people access to gender-neutral toilets), and by raising awareness around using inclusive language for gender non-binary and transgender employees.

3) Increasing transparency in goals

While many organisations have been focusing on DEI for several years, the new data from the Edelman Trust Barometer released in january 2021 indicates there’s room for improvement. Trust in business running high amongst business, which indicates now is the time to be transparent about data as a way of being held accountable for progress on diversity, equity and inclusion. More companies believe that transparency in goals and progress is key to delivering successful diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives. In 2020, PwC shared detailed data on the diversity of its US employees. Starbucks also implemented a transparent approach top sharfing its diversity goals, declaring that it was “setting and tracking annual inclusion and diversity goals of achieving BIPOC representation of at least 30 percent at all corporate levels and at least 40 percent of all retail and manufacturing roles by 2025”. Starbucks even decided to connect the building of inclusive and diverse teams to its executive compensation programme. Many more organisations are also started to compensate leadership teams for achieving their workforce diversity targets, including Nike, McDonald’s and Amex. If you want to learn how you can become a better diversity and inclusion advocate in your workplace, take this 2-minute quiz to test what type of diversity champion you are.

4) Diversify senior leadership

Traditionally, corporate executive leadership has consisted of primarily white men. Only over the past few years has this expanded into men of colour and women but senior leadership continues to exclude women of color, and disabled individuals and more under-represented groups. Organisations such as Nasdaq are proposing requirements that “would require all companies to publicly disclose consistent, transparent diversity statistics regarding their board of directors.” Additionally, the rules would require most Nasdaq-listed companies to have, or explain why they do not have, at least two diverse directors, including one who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+.” A 2019 Gartner survey revealed that 88% of DEI leaders perceive bias in their organization’s promotions or succession processes. 78% percent of DEI leaders believe that their recruiting and performance management systems are biased. To tackle bias within their succession processes in 2021, forward-thinking organizations are changing how they define their model of who has the potential to be a successor. One strategy commonly used is to presume that every employee is eligible for promotion and to discuss why an employee is not ready, rather than presuming they are not and pushing for advancement.

5) Voluntary-based learning opportunities

A recent study by the International Journal of Training Development indicated that training participation significantly moderated the correlation of mastery-approach and performance-avoidance goal orientation, with more positive estimates when training enrollment was voluntary. Another study by Harvard University and Tel Aviv University found that voluntary diversity training programs that let people choose whether to attend led to growth among several minority groups. Diversity managers told that 80% of people typically do attend these diversity learning sessions, even when programmes are voluntary. And strong representation from leaders can be one way to help encourage people to show up. Increasing the number of opt-in learning sessions for employees is another workplace diversity trend that will continue to grow in 2021 and beyond. An increasing number of businesses are now opting for voluntary diversity and inclusion learning opportunities, allowing employees to engage in diversity and inclusion training at their own pace. If you want to learn more about becoming an inclusion champion, watch 6 habits to boost diversity and inclusion (and become an inclusive leader).

6) Inclusion awareness

Manager coaching and development and awareness is a key focus area to make this year’s hybrid model successful. 2021 is a year where learning how to build and maintain an inclusive culture in hybrid work is the key to success. Most organisations have invested in coaching leaders to enable better collaboration and connection with their people in hybrid work,to build and sustain a culture of inclusion and belonging where trust is at the center of everything they do. Organisations are finally recognizing and celebrating inclusion champions in their workplace. According to a 2020 InStride study, 92% of business leaders agree a strategic workforce education program should help an organization achieve its diversity and inclusion goals. For those companies that are still unsure about the role of inclusion in their organisation’s success, Deloitted revealed that millennials are 83% more likely to be engaged at work at inclusive companies. Forward-thinking organisations invest in inclusion awareness because they understand it will help attract and retain top talent, which is key to success. If you want to learn more about how to create an inclusive workplace, read Inclusion: the ultimate secret for an organization’s success.

Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is rapidly becoming a must-have and no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ for organisations that are forward-thinking. Diversity in the workplace is a necessity for any organisation that wants to be successful in 2021 and beyond. The above-mentioned diversity and inclusion trends highlight this and how employees, clients and stakeholders are expecting today’s organisations to become more diverse, more inclusive and more equal. If you need help to build and sustain a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace, contact us now.

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