The United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn affirmative action has sent shockwaves through higher education, and many argued the court’s decision would likely have trickle-down effects within the workplace. This is why making real progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) must involve ingraining these initiatives into your organization’s DNA and advancing shared goals with genuine senior and executive leadership support.
According to DDI’s 2023 Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Report, the number of organizations with DEI programs has dropped from 20 percent to 15 percent since 2020. The report underscored that over the past two years, there had been an 18 percent decrease in leaders endorsing their organizations’ overall DEI efforts. Likewise, in Edelman’s most recent Trust Barometer, 62 percent of employees say their employers are “doing worse or mediocre” in living up to their promises to address racism at work and in their communities. The survey’s findings suggest that most employees favor diversity and equity initiatives.
At DeVry University, DEI is a priority as we look to continuously foster an inclusive culture of belonging for colleagues while also reaching students who help fulfill our mission to close society’s opportunity gap.
The business case for DEI is also very strong. There’s endless research proving DEI initiatives produce favorable results, including increased profitability and productivity. According to Forbes, companies with more diverse management teams earn 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation. While Give and Take Inc. noted that “diversity and equity boost productivity in companies that pursue them tirelessly.” Everything else falls into place when people feel seen and heard at work. However, intentionality is key when creating and implementing DEI initiatives.
If you’re a leader in an organization or institution observing the pullback on DEI initiatives yet realize a need to impact your organization for the better immediately, here’s how to take fresh steps towards incorporating meaningful DEI initiatives that will have positive outcomes:
Define, Plan, and Execute DEI from the Top-Down
Knowing that any DEI initiative must be an organization-wide priority and be led from the top down is imperative. At DeVry, leadership’s commitment is essential for advancing DEI efforts. This includes committing resources, setting priorities, and holding leaders accountable for achieving DEI outcomes. When building DeVry’s DEI initiatives, we first realized what was valuable to our institution and fulfilling our mission. Therefore, including DEI in our strategic planning and pillars was imperative. And for each pillar, we came up with goals and success factors to drive DEI from every angle of our institution.
Of course, DeVry’s DEI work started well before the pandemic, but we’ve formalized our work and have grown to have a DEI council and business resource groups (BRGs), and will soon add education council chairs to focus more on our students.
Identify Champions at All Levels of Your Organization
Employees at any level of your organization can champion your DEI work. Typically, champions will play a critical role in how your DEI initiatives get across your organization to other employees, including students. Champions personify your organization’s values and help push awareness and influence, recruiting more employees to help foster an inclusive environment based on shared goals. At DeVry, we also have employee-led BRGs with leaders and members active on the frontlines to help foster an internal culture of belonging.
Leverage Your DEI to Foster Connections and Authenticity
In its survey, Edelman’s CEO Lisa Osborne Ross noted, “When you do not have a representative workforce, your work suffers.” Her statement highlights the importance for our students to see themselves reflected in those who serve them and for our employees to see themselves reflected in their leaders. It’s like watching a movie with characters that look like you – we all want to connect and relate.
At DeVry, our programs, Women+Tech Scholars and NextGen Hispanic Scholars, help diverse students align aspects of their identities and interests with their pursuit of careers in tech. This is because we find diversity, belonging, and inclusion are critical to building successful student and talent retention strategies. Students thrive when they feel they can bring their whole selves to classrooms.
Authenticity drives the sense of inclusion and belonging at the center of effective DEI implementation. This is also why our DEI work at DeVry includes creating safe spaces for uncomfortable conversations. With the divide between work and home becoming more intertwined, allowing employees and students to voice their perspectives on societal issues that impact them is more important than ever. The goal is to foster an inclusive environment of continuous learning.
Remember DEI Initiatives Support Everyone
DEI is meant to be inclusive of everyone, recognizing the diversity of skill and thought. We can respect everyone, build belonging for everyone, and still take action to create more equity by making room for those who have historically been left out. As a higher education institution, we believe we can progress through education. A representative student body, faculty, and staff will enable us to help prepare students for a workforce shaped by technology while closing society’s opportunity gap.