The gloomy economic forecast, paired with unrealistic expectations set during the start of the pandemic, has forced thousands of companies to implement layoffs over the past six months. Although this might feel new, the data is already showing that diversity, equity, and inclusion (referred to as DEI) roles are disproportionately impacted: a survey from Revelio Labs found that last year, companies who had layoffs cut DEI positions at a rate of 33% versus a 21% cut for other roles (Revelio Labs). Listings of DEI jobs have also declined, down 19% between January and December 2022 (Washington Times). These decisions have lasting implications for our workforce and indicate a shift in corporate sentiment on social justice issues.
Despite the naysayers, it’s clear that – when implemented properly – investment in DEI strategies creates an immediate and lasting impact, ranging from representation, job morale, and positive culture to financial returns (Fortune). But like critical race theory, affirmative action, and other attempts toward social equity, DEI has been weaponized by conservatives as distracting at best and devastating at worst. A WSJ writer shamefully stated that the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank may have been because its board is relatively diverse for a bank. “I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess,” Kessler wrote, “but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands” (Vox). For what it’s worth, the bank’s board was 45% women and had one Black member, one “LGBTQ+” member, and two veterans.
• Join our upcoming Reigniting DEI workshop, an introductory with tangible ways to re-engage employees on equity and inclusion efforts and diversifying conversations on inclusion and belonging.
• If you are currently employed, learn more about your organization’s DEI efforts this year. You can reach out to HR if you have any questions about how it affects hiring and staffing.
• Research the equity and inclusion initiatives at three large companies you frequent often (like your local grocery store chain, the maker of the car you may drive, or your favorite retailer). What have they announced? How is that reflected in your perspective of them?
Companies with DEI teams typically have a higher representation of Asian, Black, and Hispanic hires than those without. It’s likely that by losing these roles now, companies will be less inclined to prioritize equitable hiring practices moving forward. Recent layoffs at companies like American Airlines, Glassdoor, and Wells Fargo have resulted in declines in diverse hires (Revelio Labs).
And long term, these losses are lasting. Layoffs change the culture of an organization, and without DEI leaders and strategies like affinity groups or listening sessions, it can prove difficult to change employee sentiment. And cutting DEI leads and initiatives sends a message to prospective employees about how important this work is to the organization in the future, which might disproportionately discourage marginalized people and younger workers from applying (Revelio Labs).
Ironically, DEI strategies are critical to ensuring layoffs have a minimally inequitable impact. Organizations should ensure that their layoff process is transparent and that employees are selected based on objective criteria. This helps prevent unconscious bias from influencing the process and can increase the likelihood that employees from underrepresented groups are not unfairly targeted. They should also equitably analyze the impact of terminations and provide severance packages and resources for re-employment that reflect the challenges the employee will have in securing a new role.
We’re in a challenging time socially. Movements around reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equity, and other necessary efforts for justice and liberation are maturing and need the support of companies more than ever. And AI and automation, which are likely to replace many of these laid-off roles, raise ethical concerns about who benefits from that investment – and who is further marginalized as a result. If organizations abandon DEI efforts, they don’t just let their employees down, but the movements that could use their support and the accountability that implementing emerging technology deserves also lose out.
These issues demand more than just lip service to equity and inclusion. And frankly, many companies doubled down on DEI in 2020 performatively, likely causing careless layoffs just a couple of years later. But many companies blundered to meet the moment because they lacked the capacity to tackle racism. With these layoffs, many are ensuring they won’t be there for the next moment, either. Our workforce and the issues that matter to them most deserve more.
• In 2022, companies that had layoffs cut DEI positions at a 33% rate versus a 21% cut for other roles.
• Investment in DEI strategies creates an immediate and lasting impact, ranging from representation, job morale, and positive culture to financial returns.
• Not only do these layoffs have an immediate impact on representation and workplace culture, but they also affect how companies can engage in social justice movements beyond the office.