Companies are disproportionately cutting diversity roles—they might soon regret it

February 10, 2023, 3:55 PM UTC
A man exits Twitter Headquarters on October 28, 2022 in New York City.
Companies like Twitter are disproportionately cutting diversity roles.
Leonardo Munoz—VIEWpress/Getty Images

Happy Friday.

This week, workforce data company Revelio Labs released a new report confirming what many suspected: Diversity, equity, and inclusion roles have been hit hard by company layoffs. “And it’s just the tip of the iceberg because it is currently actively happening,” says Revelio Labs’ senior economist Reyhan Ayas. “This loss of talent will definitely have stronger effects down the line.”

Revelio’s analysis found a 33% churn rate for DEI-related roles at more than 600 companies engaged in layoffs, compared to 21% for non-DEI roles. “It’s definitely a notable number,” she says. It’s been a slow build: Attrition rates for DEI roles in companies eliminating jobs have slowly outpaced those of non-DEI roles since 2020. But the number has climbed precipitously in the last six months, and with it, the report shows, an overall decline in “diverse” hiring as defined by individual companies.

Companies with the largest outflow of DEI talent include Capital One, Amazon, Applebee’s, Wells Fargo, Twitter, Nike, and Intel.

Considering the typically small size of inclusion teams—the median size for a DEI team among the listed companies is 3, says Ayas—the loss could mean entire departments. “This will definitely impact future hires and future employee sentiments at these companies as well,” she says. 

Many companies invested in DEI talent as part of the post-George Floyd pledges to do better, and losing this expertise signals that these were not serious commitments from the start.

“With the ‘last in, first out’ logic of layoffs, they’re really correcting for all the over-hiring that happened in the last two years,” Ayas says. “The diversity problem in big tech companies or high-paying industries has been around for a while, and even when companies want to make an effort to hire more diverse candidates, we know that it is not as straightforward or as easy as they would like it to be.”

And now it’s going to be harder.

Ayas says to expect a dip in employee goodwill as the tangible benefits of an inclusion-focused workplace begin to fade. And with fewer of those voices at the table, there will be fewer experts to help companies navigate sudden issues.

One on the horizon is the decision from the Supreme Court on affirmative action in education, expected this spring.

Ayas imagines the ripple effect in corporate life will also be notable. “With affirmative action [potentially] no longer in place, diversity may lose steam as a focus in both industry and education.” She says it will have implications in almost every market and any place humans work, live, and study. “It will make it even harder for pretty much all companies to commit to whatever goals they set.”

Now, I want to hear from you. How is your company thinking about the upcoming SCOTUS decision on affirmative action? Are you thinking about how a possible “contagion effect” would challenge how your company’s inclusion work plays out? Let me know; subject line: SCOTUS.

More inspiring news below.

Clarification, February 13, 2023:

Revelio Labs looks at publicly available data from a wide variety of publicly available data sets, which could include jobs with a diversity component but are not considered “diversity professionals’ who report to their diversity leadership.

In the specific case of Target, whose data appears in the report, the jobs that Revelio Labs examined did not directly correlate with the DEI functions that Target considers part of their primary team. From a statement from Target: “As for our dedicated team of DEI professionals, whose core roles are focused on building and guiding our DEI-specific strategies, we have not made any reductions to that team. In fact, our DEI team has only continued to grow year over year, reinforcing our commitment in this space and the impact we aim to create through our efforts.”

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.

On Background

Ariel Investments closes $1.45 billion “Project Black” fund
It’s Ariel’s first private equity fund, with a unique mission: to transform middle-market companies into certified minority businesses of scale that can serve as suppliers to Fortune 500 companies. Companies need to demonstrate $100 million to $1 billion in revenue and may or may not be currently minority-owned. Partners/investors in the fund include Lowe’s, Merck, Nuveen (TIAA), Salesforce, and Synchrony. It’s a big deal. Mellody Hobson, the cofounder of Ariel Alternatives and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, said in a statement: “We are scaling change. In so doing, we will redefine what it means to be a minority-owned business in the United States.”
Ariel Investments

LeBron James breaks the all-time NBA scoring record, and the crowd goes wild
One person, in particular, was very proud. James set a record 38,388 lifetime points in the third quarter of a home-court game against the Oklahoma City Thunder this week. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the former record holder, was on hand for the occasion. Later, he took to his Substack to process the moment. "It takes unbelievable drive, dedication, and talent to survive in the NBA long enough to rack up that number of points when the average NBA career lasts only 4.5 years," he wrote. "It's not just about putting the ball through the hoop. It's about staying healthy and skilled enough to climb the steep mountain in ever-thinning oxygen over many years when most other players have tapped out."

Viola Davis becomes the 18th EGOT
Her Grammy win for best audiobook puts her in rarified air—winning Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and Emmy awards for all her outsized excellence. She is the fourth Black person and third Black woman to do so. But this one EGOT is special, argues Vanity Fair—she won all four for performing categories. (Not that producing isn’t a great talent, but it’s not the same.) More career highlights below.
Vanity Fair

Black joy is fueling a rural racial justice movement
And reminding people that Black folks are everywhere in the U.S., even in the heartland. It began as an epiphany for Julianne Jackson, a Black woman living in rural Oregon who felt her spirit was underrepresented in the social justice protests of the last two years. “There was a lot of hatred, a lot of vitriol, and a lot of things I didn’t necessarily identify with,” she says. “And while I understand those feelings—I have them, too—it didn’t represent me as a Black woman.” So, Jackson, her wife, and some friends created an organization that brings joyful marches to rural areas. They’ve now held over 140 of them, using the marches as a chance to connect Black communities with resources. “We smile and wave at folks, dance, and just spread love and joy,” she says.
Reasons To Be Cheerful

Parting Words

"Black subjects are so underrepresented in everyday photos. When we think of Black life in America, we think of depictions of the civil rights movement and the struggle Black people faced in achieving mobility in political freedom. These are important images, but there are Black people capturing the joy and vibrancy of their everyday lives outside of that experience. These images were taken without a societal mask. They are liberating."

Parker Thompson, Brandeis class of 2023, on a new exhibit drawn from his collection of photos of Black joy

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