Lisa Daniels is vice chair of growth and strategy and Elena Richards is chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, both at KPMG U.S. Views are the authors’ own.
The events of the last few years have inspired stronger demand for corporate accountability for diversity, equity and inclusion. Following the social unrest stemming from the murder of George Floyd, demand for diversity-related skills in job postings across industries increased by as much as 85% from May to July 2020, surpassing pre-COVID-19 levels. However, recent layoffs across industries are gutting diversity and inclusion departments, threatening company pledges to hire and promote more underrepresented talent amid one of the most pivotal times to further these efforts.
A business’s DEI efforts require both promises and follow-through. Progressing toward DEI goals allows employees to see that leaders are giving more than just verbal commitments to create and sustain a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment. That progress comes from a true understanding of the significance of each word. Diversity is about recruiting and retaining a workforce that embodies an array of unique perspectives, experiences and cultural backgrounds. Equity is centered on ensuring everyone has fair access to professional and career development opportunities. Inclusion fosters an ethical and collaborative culture where everyone feels a sense of belonging, value and respect. Moreover, these initiatives create more robust and productive teams — ultimately improving companies’ reputation capital with clients, prospective talent and communities.
To fully realize the potential of DEI, it must be embedded into business strategy and corporate culture. Through commitment, learning and transparency from the top of the organization, DEI will lead to business growth. Below are three ways leaders can get started now.
1. Communicate progress toward DEI goals
Organizations must demonstrate continuous transparency in their DEI achievements and milestones.
In 2020, KPMG U.S. set bold targets when we launched Accelerate 2025, the firm’s strategy rooted in growing and supporting a diverse workforce and inclusive work environment. Our people are the driving force behind everything we do as a firm — their skills and commitment to excellence and integrity support the high-quality services we provide to our clients and the ethical, collaborative and inclusive culture we see at the firm. But to empower our people to be innovative and show up as their best selves at work, they need to trust that our firm is dedicated to our DEI commitments.
Accountability, a core component of our commitment to our people, is driving us to make progress. Currently, at our midpoint in Accelerate 2025, we are not yet halfway toward our goal to increase our Black and Latinx workforce by 50%, which is why we’re deepening our investments and our focus on DEI efforts, as reported in our 2023 U.S. Impact Plan. By demonstrating our progress and promise to do more, we want our people to trust that we recognize the work that is still needed to reach our goals and enable a more equitable, sustainable society.
To accelerate their organization’s growth and attract and retain their workforce, business leaders must clearly and consistently communicate progress toward DEI goals. Leaders must remain cognizant that DEI is a tool that unlocks the power of not only people but also businesses.
2. Be accountable
Conveying DEI progress is just one component of fostering inclusion, trust and productivity in the workplace. Incentivizing leaders to create accountability frameworks and creating specific roles in an organization’s hierarchy to help make those strategies a success is equally important in empowering employees.
As it stands, few organizations have such accountability measures in place. Only 28% of companies today hold C-suite executives accountable for advancing their organizations’ DEI strategies. Leadership accountability is paramount in this process. If organizations embed specific benchmarks into the C-suite focused on achieving — and even surpassing — DEI goals, leaders would be able to create systemic processes that keep their organizations on track toward progress. For example, the KPMG U.S. Board of Directors is holding executive leadership accountable for our DEI efforts and aspirations. As a core component of our governance, this type of accountability drives us to acknowledge and strategize around each commitment across our work.
Robust succession planning — through sponsorship, credentialing opportunities and talent talks — also ensures the readiness of the next generation of leaders. Developing potential successors for critical roles across the firm helps us navigate short-term change and plan ahead, but it’s also an opportunity for today’s leaders to cultivate potential across diverse groups, demonstrate cultural humility and self-awareness, support the growth of their entire workforce and ensure a future backed by innovation.
3. Foster inclusion
A growing body of research affirms that diversity is key to building the most efficient and successful teams, and thus a more productive and innovative organization. Building inclusive, equitable teams empowers employees, which can support retention and ultimately bolster an organization’s reputation and bottom line. Employees who feel heard and included in important conversations are more likely to be motivated to deliver their best work and remain within their organization. Research shows that inclusive teams perform better in highly diverse environments.
While workforce diversity can be cultivated through more inclusive hiring practices, inclusion does not automatically follow suit. To foster inclusivity, leaders must create psychologically safe environments and norms for their employees. True inclusion allows workers to feel safe to speak openly and share their perspectives without fear of retaliation. Inclusion evokes a shared expectation that their team, or workplace in general, is safe for interpersonal risk-taking and expressing ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes. By encouraging a diverse array of perspectives and experiences, businesses are strengthening their output and creating an environment where all employees feel safe and empowered to speak up.
Through communication, transparency and a commitment to upholding and working toward DEI goals, leaders will be able to make measurable, accountable progress toward achieving DEI as tangible business outcomes.
Editor’s note: This submission’s headline has been updated.