Updated: Jan 27
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work can be immensely rewarding. It is hard to think of a role that carries a greater sense of purpose and meaning. But leading the charge on DEI can also be challenging, overwhelming, exhausting even. As we settle into a new year, drawing on our expertise and work with clients across industries and geographies, Inclusive Group has set out the top five themes that we feel will influence the DEI agenda in 2023. Spoiler alert – 2023 is set to be a year of challenge and opportunity for DEI.
Doubling down on outcomes
Frustration is not a new phenomenon in the DEI world. The pace of change on DEI can feel glacial – and even the best-intentioned DEI efforts can feel performative if bias persists and poor everyday behaviour goes unchecked. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction, and organisations around the world committed to addressing race inequities, expectations rightly ramped up.
But have employers lived up to their promise?
We anticipate that in 2023, employees, clients and investors will increasingly judge DEI progress on outcomes, rather than activities, initiatives, or programmes. Developing a truly outcomes focused approach to DEI is progressive and likely to lead to more tangible results, but it can also be resource intensive.
Get ready to roll up your sleeves and scrutinise people data (within the boundaries of GDPR of course), unpack and address systemic issues, revise strategies, and introduce accountability frameworks. Perhaps because of the intensity of this work, we have seen an uptick in demand for consultancy services supporting clients to develop outcomes focused approaches, as we enter 2023, we have also seen increased appetite for DEI strategy and process workshops, providing practical tools to process owners and DEI stakeholders.
Employers will seek out the root cause of DEI setbacks
Consider a professional services firm who has set ethnicity targets and invested considerably in hiring minority ethnic talent.
35% new hires are from minority ethnic groups – the efforts are hailed as a success story.
But over time, things begin to unravel. High attrition and low promotion rates see the firm fail to make progress towards its goals and leave employees feeling let down. Do we ramp up hiring? Or introduce a mentoring scheme? These might be part of the answer, but taking steps to address an issue, before conducting a full diagnosis may mean that solutions don’t address the root cause – and that’s problematic.
We believe 2023 will see an increase in the number of employers who want to get to the heart of the issues. This might involve a combination of data analysis across the employee lifecycle, employee surveys and group or 1:1 listening – highlighting themes, barriers and issues that need to be addressed. While this process can require leaders to confront uncomfortable truths, it also allows them to ensure finite DEI resources are invested where they are most needed.
Hybrid inclusion will present challenges as employers encourage more office attendance
Will 2023 be the year of the ‘great return’?
Despite concern voiced by some senior leaders that our hybrid-working days are numbered, we believe the hybrid workplace is here to stay. However, as we enter 2023, we are seeing more employers take proactive steps to encourage – or demand - increased office attendance. Employers have already learned that striking the right balance between the differing needs of employers, leaders and employees is not easy.
In the legal industry, a recent study by tech provider BigHand highlighted the challenges and risks associated with mandated office working. 1/3 those participating in BigHand’s survey admitted to ‘actively ignoring’ mandates to stop working from home and almost half stated they would look for a new job if required to work more than 3 days a week in the office. In contrast, junior employees across industries tell us that they are suffering from lower standards of training, missing out on ‘water-cooler-moments’ and crucial opportunities to learn through osmosis because supervisors are staying at home.
So how can employers get it right?
Our work across industries points to five ‘must-have’s’ in any effective hybrid working strategy:
1. Building trust between employers and employees
2. Active and honest communication, both at an organisation and a team level
3. Effective people management and the willingness to have difficult conversations
4. Recognising the unique needs of your workforce, avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach
5. Considering DEI threats (e.g. proximity bias) and opportunities at the outset
Culture and conduct remain at the top of the regulatory agenda
In recent years, culture and conduct have become more pressing issues for regulators and this is set to continue in 2023, particularly in the legal industry. Last year, the Legal Services Board, the oversight regulator of legal services in England & Wales, reaffirmed its commitment to taking action to ensure more inclusive workplaces, stating ‘Many of the barriers to a successful legal career arise from the conduct – or misconduct – of legal professionals.’
In 2023, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority is expected to introduce rule changes on unfair treatment at work for firms and solicitors, with a requirement that managers challenge unfair behaviour, and encouragement for individual solicitors who are not managers to do so. It is crucial that firms prepare for the SRA’s rule changes – but creating a speak up culture in any workplace is incredibly challenging.
We have seen a sharp uptick in demand for immersive and highly practical workshops focusing on psychological safety, providing leaders, managers and colleagues at all levels with tools to help them to challenge unfair treatment and workplace exclusion. For leaders, training must incorporate ‘listening up’ as well as ‘speaking up’.
A rise in anti-woke sentiment
Sadly, we anticipate that perspectives on DEI will become increasingly polarised in 2023, with a rise in ‘anti-woke’ sentiment. For some individuals, a focus on equity may make them feel threatened, others may be resistant to change, or feel empowered or validated by views voiced by politicians and public figures, or on social media. DEI professionals, ERG leaders and colleagues in under-represented and marginalised groups, are likely to be experiencing fear, vulnerability, and anxiety as anti-woke sentiment increases. It is crucial that employers reaffirm their commitment to DEI, and proactively offer support to those who may find themselves confronted with anti-woke sentiment.
Inclusive Group has partnered with organisations across sectors and geographies for over 20 years, helping them to navigate DEI challenges, increase leadership engagement and accountability and achieve tangible change in workplace culture. We believe 2023 brings huge DEI opportunities as well as challenges. If these themes resonate with you, please email email@example.com to explore how Inclusive Group can support you and your organisation as you face all that 2023 has to bring.