A recent report indicates that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives have moved from second to seventh place in terms of HR priorities, however, an HR Trends Report 2024 from McLean & Company indicates that “organizations that are highly effective in their approach to DEI are 1.9 times more likely to have a highly productive workforce.” With budgets dwindling and priorities shifting, now is a critical time to consider external subject matter expertise to support your social impact and DEI activities in 2024.
From culture assessments to Employee Resource Group (ERG) support and learning & development opportunities, looking to external vendors can garner more team trust, alleviate pressure on HR business partners, increase capacity, and deliver targeted solutions through multiple SMEs. The result? A customized solution that offers relevant training and consulting cost savings at scale.
Before diving right into outsourced solutions, let’s explore what makes this year different for DEI and HR professionals.
For one, the political climate and gradual polarization in the US have been intensifying since the pandemic. Given that it is an election year, companies and DEI leaders are struggling to decide if they can manage to keep political ideology out of the workplace or find the proper approach to addressing the issues while remaining neutral. According to a 2020 survey by SHRM “compared to previous years, 44 percent of HR professionals report intensified political volatility at work.” Further to that point “eighty percent of HR professionals say their organizations have not set guidelines on communicating about politics at work.”
And that’s just what’s going on in the US. Taking a more global view, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza risk sparking workplace conflict. In addition, according to a CNN report “economic and political stability is threatened by massive migration flows, fears of recession, and the broadening impacts of climate change.” These are all concerns of everyday people and there’s a looming risk of these external issues coming up in casual workplace discussion. It would be naïve for DEI and HR professionals to ignore what’s going on globally and its impact on their team. The point is, approaching how to properly address these topics in the workplace can feel like treading on thin ice.
Not aligned, but still top of mind for employees, is the uncertainty of how AI technology may disrupt business across most industries and what the implications are on job displacement. While we’re in the nascent stages of understanding the depth of this technology’s potential impact, Tyna Eloundou of OpenAI told The Economist “around 80% of the US workforce could have at least 10% of their work tasks affected by the introduction of LLMs.”
The accuracy of these predictions doesn’t matter. People are concerned about their job status now and in the near future. PwC released the results of their “Global Workforce Hopes & Fears Survey” which reveals that nearly 30% of workers harbor concerns that their jobs might succumb to technological replacements, particularly from advancements like AI, in the next three years.
Taking a wholistic view of society can help DEI and HR professionals decide what conversations and training are worth investing in this year. The one size fits all company-wide solutions for policies, practices, and training are becoming a thing of the past.
What can external subject matter experts (SMEs) provide in terms of support in 2024?
#1. An externally run (and anonymous) pulse check on employee sentiment can provide increased insights into how your team is feeling this year:
Sourcing an external data consultant and electing an anonymous data collection process increases the likelihood of employee participation. Vendors often bring an unbiased perspective and specialized tools for assessing and collecting DEI data. Employees may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences with an external party, which can lead to more accurate and honest results. Trust is crucial for obtaining meaningful insights into the organizational culture and identifying areas that need improvement. We suggest in 2024 that DEI leaders consider adding a question that will highlight potential employee concerns that can then be addressed through a strategic communication plan that includes targeted workshops and top-down reassurances.
#2. External DEI experts can protect internal employees from having to address sensitive subjects:
Sensitive topics related to DEI can be challenging for internal DEI leaders to address, especially in the current socio-political climate where discussions can be extremely polarized. Historically, the goal was to leave our political views at the door, but this is becoming less likely in 2024. In crisis management, being proactive and preventing conflicts is often more effective than reacting to them after they’ve erupted. External DEI experts can play a crucial role in foreseeing potential conflicts, particularly in situations where sensitive subjects intersect with broader societal issues.
External DEI experts provide an unbiased and professional perspective, reducing the burden on internal staff to navigate potentially contentious conversations. This external observation allows for a more objective evaluation of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses in DEI.
#3. Going external enables you to access a variety of SMEs, which is especially relevant in approaching sensitive topics:
DEI encompasses a wide range of topics, from cultural assessments to ERG support and learning & development. Instead of hiring a generalist who may not have expertise in all these areas, external vendors provide access to a diverse pool of SMEs. This ensures that each aspect of DEI is addressed in a bullseye targeted way by professionals with specific knowledge and experience, resulting in a more comprehensive, effective, and ROI driven approach.
In addition, trainers specializing in DEI are typically well-versed in facilitating difficult conversations. They possess the skills to guide discussions in a constructive and inclusive manner, minimizing the risk of misunderstandings or conflicts that could lead to backlash. External trainers often come with established credibility and expertise in DEI.
This credibility can lend weight to the importance of the topics being discussed and may reduce resistance from employees who might be skeptical about internal initiatives. In addition, sensitive topics can evoke strong emotions. External trainers are trained to handle these emotional responses effectively, ensuring that discussions remain constructive and respectful.
#4. Choosing an L&D partner saves time on developing content that is available to be licensed and customized to your organizations’ specific needs:
Creating DEI content internally can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. External vendors often have a team of experts who continuously research and update their content. By leveraging externally developed content, organizations can benefit from the vendor’s ongoing commitment to staying current with DEI principles, saving internal teams the time required for extensive research. Pre-developed content from external vendors is often designed to be customizable. However, since it already encompasses foundational principles and best practices, the time spent tailoring the content to fit the organization’s needs is significantly reduced compared to creating content from scratch.
Given the 2024 landscape, we know that DEI initiatives are going to continue to be imperative to the success of organizations. But it must be done well, and with the trust of your people. Understanding this, it’s important to leverage already proven approaches and methodologies to not only drive inclusion, but remind colleagues to act with respect and integrity in heightened moments throughout the coming year.