Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, many U.S. companies made commitments to step up their internal and external diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
Last year, 71% of companies reported they had implemented many DEI-related actions since 2020, according to KPMG’s 2022 DEI progress survey. More than eight in 10 chief human resource officers report their companies are increasing their investment in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) programs, according to a Gallup survey on behalf of the Harvard Business Review. Those investments range from providing DEI-focused employee resource groups to unconscious bias training to reviews of hiring and promotion policies.
But U.S. workers are saying it’s not enough to move the needle. Only 33% of workers believe their employer has fair organizational processes in place, according to a new report released Thursday from Catalyst that surveyed over 24,000 workers from more than 20 countries, including the U.S. Women (28%) and nonbinary employees (24%) are even less likely to regard their companies as fair places to work.
Not only are so many workers seeing inequities in their organizations—a significant number of Americans say there’s no accountability. About 52% of American workers believe their companies hold leaders accountable for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, Catalyst finds. And this is not just a U.S. problem; global workers had nearly identical responses.
“Right now, more than probably ever before, employees and prospective employees are looking to work for responsible organizations and they’re really drawn to the types of organizations that take DEI seriously—they want to see accountability,” Emily Shaffer, report author and Catalyst’s director of research, tells Fortune.
But employees’ experiences of inclusion are impacted at so many different levels of the organization, Shaffer says. Employees are looking for more than a great manager; they want to see leaders throughout the organization striving for more equitable workplaces and held accountable for that progress (or lack thereof).
Employees are twice as likely to say they experienced inclusion at work when their senior leaders are held accountable for meeting DEI goals. And workers are five times more likely to experience inclusion when they believe their employer has fair and equitable policies in place, Catalyst finds.
This can have a huge impact on companies’ recruiting and retention efforts—particularly among younger workers. More than half of Gen Z workers refuse to consider jobs at organizations that lack diversity, and 62% report they’d be more likely to apply if a company committed to equal pay.
“Change takes time, but I think what organizations really need to do is show their employees how they’re making strides to accomplish their DEI goals, and how they’re going to involve their employees in decision making,” Shaffer says. “It’s the only way that companies are going to stay competitive.”
How are companies most commonly failing to meet their DEI promises?
There’s a number of areas where organizations are not quite hitting the mark on DEI initiatives, Shaffer says. In many cases, it’s a combination of a communication problem, as well as organizations actually missing the mark on how they’re implementing their DEI policies and procedures. Gallup’s survey, for example, found 16% of employees experienced discrimination and less than half of workers (44%) felt respected in their workplaces.
Accountability tends to be a sticking point because many workers don’t really know or understand who’s really responsible for various DEI initiatives at the senior level, Shaffer says.
In many cases, employees may not even know what the company’s representation goals are, or if their employers are setting clear targets and how they’re tracking against those.
“Transparency is absolutely key,” Shaffer says. If companies aren’t making progress or mistakes are made, leaders need to own that. “We’re seeing equity and inclusion as a journey. Employees need to know that their company’s even on the path; that they’re making progress,” she says, adding that workers need to know that DEI efforts are ongoing and that they’re not being put on pause if there’s a setback.
But companies also need to show they’re implementing the lessons they learn along the way. Maybe an organization didn’t get this right the first time, fine, but then what steps are they taking to ensure it doesn’t keep happening?
The fact that organizational changes take time means that strong communication is really critical. Employees also need to hear the messages over and over again, Shaffer says. “At least some of the employees who responded to this survey have worked for organizations that have DEI policies and structures in place, but they’re not communicating about them. And if employees don’t know about them, then to some degree, what does it matter?”
The picture that employees are painting was really clear here, Shaffer says. When organizations don’t hold senior leaders accountable to DEI goals and don’t have equitable processes in place, or when workers don’t know about the progress, employees experience less inclusion and engagement falls. In the end, those workers are more likely to leave that organization—it’s only a matter of time.