Editor’s note: This story is part of the HR Dive Outlook on 2021, a series on the trends that will shape the industry in 2021. For a look at the business trends affecting other industries, see the Dive Outlook on 2021.
The business case for inclusion and diversity remains "robust," and the relationship between diverse executive teams and the "likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time," a May McKinsey & Company report found. But along with many companies taking a nod from research and prioritizing inclusion in the workplace in 2020, societal events forced employers to take a second look at their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
Many employers committed unprecedented levels of support for racial equality and investment in communities as national calls for racial justice rose during the summer. Employers evaluated internal DEI, and some took action. The same momentum for corporate response carried into 2021, in the wake of insurrection in the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. As a result of the insurrection, some company leaders took swift action to terminate employees involved. The quickness of the response was "unprecedented," as employers have traditionally attempted to stay out of external matters, Maurice Schweitzer, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, told HR Dive in a recent interview.
Employees now expect companies to make direct, positive impacts in the workforce and in the communities they serve, industry experts at IBM and Randstad North America told HR Dive, and DEI plans in 2021 will directly reflect this broadened interest.
A stronger connection between DEI and CSR
Looking forward, the internal work of DEI professionals may include increased coordination with corporate social responsibility (CSR) teams, which oversee an organization's external social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with stakeholders. "There's reason to believe so given steps that have taken place recently," Grace Suh, vice president of education, IBM corporate social responsibility told HR Dive in an interview.
In August 2019, The Business Roundtable updated its statement of purpose, signed by more than 180 CEOs. "They were committing to not only lead their companies on behalf of shareholders, but also consider employees, suppliers, customers and communities," Suh said. At IBM, the CSR co-creation model is a partner strategy requiring collaboration with three stakeholder groups — IBM business teams, employees and external partners, according to a white paper published by the tech giant in January 2020.
IBM has a set of shared values across the company, Suh said. "What we do internally is what we reflect externally," she said. "What we do externally is reflected in what we do internally, and there's a commitment to diversity inclusion. Certainly we can and should always do more and improve and evolve, and I think we've always been moving in that direction," Suh said.
Among companies, there's a "growing understanding that we must invest in communities that have been historically and consistently denied access to equitable social and economic opportunity," she said. For example, last year, OneTen, a coalition of executives, committed to hiring 1 million Black employees in the next 10 years, Suh said. The coalition connects employers with talent partners and community nonprofits that support development of diverse talent, according to its website. Such collaborative partnerships with the community in mind reflect the acknowledgement that "systemic change, real social and economic change that's truly equitable, is going to take the private sector working in concert together," Suh said.
Millennials and members of Generation Z desire to work for organizations that align with their values and beliefs, Audra Jenkins, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Randstad North America told HR Dive in an email; "Diversity and inclusion is more than lofty platitudes on a company's website. It is embedded in the pulse of the organization, deeply rooted in the collective voice of its employees, clients and partners." Research on the behaviors and preferences of more than 150,000 U.S. millennials found they are dedicated to social and political causes, according to a 2019 Case Foundation report.
In 2021, Randstad North America launched Transcend, a diversity reskilling program aimed at addressing systemic issues for diverse and untapped communities through education and employment, Jenkins said. The initiative followed a task force created in 2020 and is led by CEO Karen Fichuk as a subset of its executive diversity council.
In the year ahead, there will be a "laser focus on the companies who are perceived as inclusive and those who are silent when major events occur impacting their diverse employee base," Jenkins said.
Early talent programs may improve pipelines, community
In the U.S., K-12 and postsecondary education systems are "deeply stratified by race and class, and do not live up to the essential American goal of providing equal opportunity," according to a November report by The Brooking Institution. However, researchers noted that work-based learning can advance equity.
Suh manages IBM's education portfolio with a mission that's focused on education, equity and workforce inclusion, she said. Part of the mission to apply IBM's best expertise, technology, a commitment to public private partnership and change at scale is Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools or P-TECH, Suh said. Established in 2011, P-TECH is IBM's public-education model which seeks to provide an opportunity, at no cost, for students from underserved backgrounds to earn both their high school diploma and a two–year associate degree linked to STEM fields. It is designed to serve students who may be the first in their families to graduate with a college degree, Suh said.
"The game-changer here is industry involvement in many ways because industry is at the table as a full partner," Suh said. "We are providing a range of workplace experiences. As soon as students enter into a P-TECH school, they have a mentor, and they go on worksite visits when they turn 16, and have some college credit under their belt," she said. The students participate in skills-based paid internships, and at the end of their internship, they present to executives. "Upon graduation, they're first in line for jobs with their industry partner," she said.
IBM has hired about 60 students alone; and "we know that other companies are hiring as well," Suh said. "We're working on getting the robust data across the board that will share the story of the people who are benefiting from the model." IBM is committed to "stewarding it forward," understanding the importance of bringing other industries onboard to "foster systemic change," she said.
"There are endless approaches to cultivating an inclusive working environment, and early talent programs for high school students should certainly be prioritized," Jenkins said. "Leaders can work directly with high schools, recruit for internships through social media, or work with standing programs in their communities to reach these students."
For 2021, these programs may be virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, she said. Employers will need to also consider internet inequality as not all students in diverse and underserved communities have home internet access. But companies also will need to work with partners that have the infrastructure and mission to reach diverse youth en mass, Jenkins said.
Transparency, data driven strategies impact culture
DEI and belonging require commitment combined with intentional efforts and transparency, Jenkins said. "We have been enthralled in a triple pandemic from 2020 to 2021," she said. The coronavirus pandemic "sped up digital transformation to accommodate the reimagined workforce; social justice reform protests heightened with the back to back deaths of Amaud Abery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others before them; and the outcomes of a contentious and highly divisive election" has left many "wondering how we will achieve unity on a positive path forward," Jenkins said. Transparency includes sharing internally how DEI and belonging are measured, she said.
Companies should "identify underrepresentation opportunities" and use metrics to report on the amount of diverse candidates hired, Jenkins said. It's also important to measure the number of executive sponsors who advocate for the development of and advancement of diverse employees, she said. A key metric to follow is the number of high-potential diverse employees who received promotions as a result of mentorship and sponsorship, she added.
Randstad leverages technology in recruiting using "a wide variety of tools from AI," and also "talent targeted marketing" to "attract and prompt the desired demographic to apply to jobs," Jenkins said. The company uses an artificial intelligence matching platform to mitigate unconscious bias in the process. Recruiter bots are also used to "ensure candidates are matched based on skill sets to minimize bias in the selection process," Jenkins said. In addition, Pymetrics, a tool that "blends behavioral science insights and gamification to determine candidate suitability" adds another layer of job matching and skill assessment, she said.
To invest in appropriate efforts to improve DEI, a company needs a complete understanding of how diversity is represented within its workforce and recruitment efforts, Jenkins said.