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HR leaders say they’re still committed to DEI in 2024 despite the ‘anti-woke’ backlash

10'000 Hours—Getty Images

Good morning!

Last year was undoubtedly pivotal for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The Supreme Court’s June ruling striking down affirmative action in university admissions emboldened “anti-woke” activists targeting corporate DEI programs.

Diversity initiatives suffered a blow last year, and companies investing in DEI fell to 27% in 2023, down from 33% in 2022. That number could drop further to 20% in 2024, according to a report from research and advisory company Forrester. But that doesn’t mean that HR leaders are happy about it. None of the 194 CHROs polled in a Conference Board survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 2023 plan to scale back their DEI initiatives in 2024, and 63% plan to focus on attracting a more diverse workforce.

It’s unclear whether HR leaders are engaging in wishful thinking, if they’re simply redefining how to measure DEI initiatives, or if there’s another reason for this discrepancy. But several HR and diversity chiefs told me late last year that they and their companies remain committed to reaching their diversity goals despite any Supreme Court decision.

“For us, it means more doubling down, more focus, more diligence to make sure that we have a diverse workforce because we believe that's where innovation is gonna come from,” says Jacqui Canney, chief people officer at ServiceNow. “I don't see us diverting our efforts at all. And I believe a lot of other CHROs, that's the same path they're going to take.”

Karyn Twaronite, EY’s global vice chair of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, says executives at the global companies she speaks with continue to invest in DEI programs “because they know that this is incredibly valuable from a business perspective…and they're not prepared to walk away from that tremendous business lever.”

Plus, employees want diversity and inclusion. A Pew Research poll conducted in February 2023 found that 56% of employees said focusing on DEI at work was good, while another 28% said it was neither good nor bad. Gen Z and millennial workers in particular expect their employers to commit to DEI. Around 63% of respondents across all generations of EY’s 2023 Belonging Barometer survey said they prioritize DEI programs when it comes to choosing which company to work for, while 73% of Gen Z and 68% of millennial respondents said the same.

But legal challenges and threats still exist, and HR and diversity heads will have to continue to focus on evolving their practices and policies as laws change. Many companies are focusing on skills-based hiring and changing job requirements to broaden talent pools without setting quotas or appearing to target only specific demographics.

“[We’re] spending the time with our CHROs challenging them to think about things that have been on job descriptions for decades, and questioning: Is this necessary? Or is this a barrier to helping find untapped talent? Or is it an essential part of the role that's going to be performed?” says Randy Patterson, managing director of human capital at Blackstone’s Portfolio Operations group, who is part of the company’s push to improve diverse recruitment, retention, and development. “[It’s] getting down to the skills that are needed for the role, and understanding that those skills can come through different paths or methods.”

Twaronite says that many companies adjust their corporate governance and policies in accordance with regulatory changes, such as accounting or security, and DEI is no different.

“For the companies that are very well run in this space…perhaps they changed some of their programs, perhaps they tweak some of their efforts, perhaps they changed some things. But many of them are maintaining significant commitments to this business effort,” she says. “This isn't a ‘Let's do it for three years and not do it anymore’ kind of program.”

Paige McGlauflin
paige.mcglauflin@fortune.com
@paidion

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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