De-prioritization, Rollback and Rumors — What's the Truth About Inclusion Efforts at Work?

Black woman leading discussion with diverse peers in meeting

Many business owners and HR professionals have likely heard rumblings that diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts are either disappearing, losing steam or being deprioritized in some way, shape or form.

In the wake of legislative developments and movements claiming DE&I efforts may negatively affect merit-based promotions or create challenges in work or educational environments, leaders are left wondering what place DE&I efforts still have in the workplace.

DE&I at work remains vital because it affects all people, especially women and other underrepresented groups (URGs). According to Glassdoor, a diverse workplace proved essential to a majority of white workers, but it was of paramount importance to underrepresented job seekers: 72 percent of women (v. 62 percent of men). And 89 percent of African Americans, 80 percent of Asians, and 70 percent of Latinos ranked workforce diversity as important in their job search. What's more, a fundamental identifying feature of a truly inclusive culture is the abundant presence of psychological safety. While research illustrates many organizations lack high levels of psychological safety — a key ingredient for true inclusion and belonging — it is something leaders can cultivate, according to McKinsey & Company.

The facts remain: whether a workplace is diverse, equitable and inclusive will affect people. Because businesses are so dependent on people—aka, employees—for their success, it's crucial that organizations continue to prioritize DE&I efforts for their own sake and the sake of their employees.

How can leaders focus on DE&I amidst resistance?

In their recent Women of Power Summit 2024, Black Enterprise addressed ways leaders can continue to promote inclusion in the workplace despite recent de-prioritization, rollbacks or rumors that it's no longer important. They can do this by reflecting on the business's current state, rising to the occasion where changes are necessary, and acting out change through personal interactions and organization-wide initiatives. Four key takeaways from the event guide business owners and HR professionals through prioritizing inclusion in ways that make a difference.

Tiffany Davis, ADP's chief inclusion and diversity officer, encourages leaders to think beyond policies. "Inclusion is more than a policy; it's a culture. Regardless of the shifting sands of company policies, it's imperative that we embed inclusivity into every fabric of our daily operations," Davis says. "Let your actions speak volumes—champion diversity in every meeting, in every team, and in every decision. This is how we build a truly inclusive workplace."

1) Empowerment through representation

Representation within the workforce, particularly for women of color, is pivotal in enhancing DE&I in the workplace. It ensures women's voices are heard and valued in decision-making, leading to more innovative and comprehensive solutions. Moreover, having women of color in various roles, especially leadership, is a powerful role model, encouraging other women to aspire to and achieve similar positions.

This visibility also influences the development of equitable workplace policies, addressing critical issues such as parental leave and flexible working hours. A diverse workforce also signals to potential employees and clients that the organization is committed to building an inclusive environment, essential for attracting top talent and maintaining a competitive edge. Ultimately, prioritizing representation is not just about equity but leveraging diverse talents for organizational growth and success.

Cherie Bond, ADP's senior director, HR business partner, emphasizes the importance of representation at work. "It's critical for us to remember the strength of our organizations lie not just in the diversity of our teams, but in the power of inclusion, that allows every voice to be heard, including women of color," Bond says. "With the inclusion of their unique perspectives and experiences, we can truly innovate and thrive."

Women of color in leadership need to share their stories of resilience and perseverance to showcase the limitless potential within the black and underrepresented women's leadership community.

2) Honor intersectionality and inclusivity

In the contemporary workplace, inclusion and intersectionality are not just buzzwords. They're essential frameworks for cultivating a truly diverse and equitable environment. Given the multifaceted experiences of women of color, recognizing and addressing their unique challenges is profoundly important.

Inclusion creates a space where women of color are seen and celebrated, and their intersectional experience is truly valued. To achieve this, organizations must go beyond superficial diversity metrics and strive for an inclusive culture that cherishes everyone's contributions. Addressing overlapping identities and dismantling the barriers that inhibit the full participation and advancement of women of color is critical to fostering an inclusive environment. This includes actively listening to their experiences, implementing policies that address their specific needs, and ensuring their representation in decision-making processes.

3) Share strategies for success

Sharing strategies for success is crucial for women of color in the workplace, as it equips them with the practical skills and the knowledge necessary to navigate and overcome their unique challenges. For example, learning effective negotiation techniques can help black women better advocate for their value and secure equitable compensation and opportunities. Leadership practices tailored to their experiences empower them to navigate organizational dynamics confidently, inspiring those they lead and creating more inclusive environments.

Skills development goes beyond personal growth; it's about building resilience and adaptability in a constantly evolving workplace. When women of color have access to these strategies, it enhances their professional journey and contributes to dismantling systemic barriers, paving the way for a more diverse and equitable workplace. Sharing these strategies fosters a community of support and empowerment, encouraging women of color to pursue their ambitions and lead with strength.

Davis emphasizes the importance of sharing strategies for success, saying, "Empowering women with the right strategies and tools doesn't just change the trajectory of their careers; it reshapes the entire landscape of our workplaces for the better, fostering a culture where diversity is not just celebrated but is the cornerstone of innovation and success."

4) Build a supportive network

Building a supportive network is crucial for women of color in the workplace. A supportive network provides a sense of community and belonging, helping to mitigate feelings of isolation or alienation that can arise in environments where they are underrepresented. Such networks offer emotional support, mentorship, and advice, which are invaluable for personal and professional development.

A supportive network acts as a platform for sharing opportunities, such as job openings, professional development programs, and sponsorship, which might not be as readily accessible through formal channels. It also serves as a safe space for discussing and strategizing on navigating systemic workplace challenges and biases. Ultimately, a robust supportive network empowers women of color to thrive professionally, amplifies their voices, and contributes to breaking down barriers, enabling a more inclusive and equitable workplace environment.

Action steps

Whether you're part of an organization that prioritizes DE&I or not, you can still take proactive steps to support women of color in leadership positions or those emerging as leaders. You can help make women of color and other underrepresented groups in your workplace feel seen, welcomed, and celebrated by creating space for their voices, listening actively, and providing opportunities for networking and building a supportive community among women who share similar experiences.

Consider sending your women leaders or emerging leaders to next year's Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit or other similar conferences held throughout the year where they can connect with other women leaders and grow their support network.

ADP is a proud supporter and sponsor of the Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit and sent 39 women leaders to this year's summit. The series of premier professional development gatherings for executive women provided three days of unparalleled inspiration, connection, and empowerment. For event insights, watch the sessions on-demand.

For more timely conversations surrounding women at work, tune into the Women@Work complimentary virtual summit on-demand.