2017–2018 Trends in Diversity and Inclusion

Donald Trump, Charlottesville, #MeToo, Muslim ban, DREAMers, LGBTQ hate crimes, police brutality, the Women’s March, #TimesUp…

2017 was a politically and culturally tumultuous year.

How many times did y’all say this last year?

With each breaking news, company leaders scrambled to figure out if they should acknowledge what’s happening outside of the office, and if they should take a stand, or “choose a side.”

Leaders these days are faced with a tough order to ditch the traditional “check politics at the door” approach towards social movements.

Times have changed.

The growing tension in our society is impacting the workplace and many workplaces feel the internal tension growing as they scramble to figure out ways to address it. Research showed “1 in 4 U.S. employees have been negatively affected by political talk at work this election season, with younger workers in particular experiencing diminished productivity and more stress.” One more time for the people in the back: One. In. Four. Employees.

In 2017, our team at Awaken had the honor of working with a diverse range of companies in and outside of the tech industry, and speaking with a lot of anxious and uncertain leaders. We learned a ton about where the market is and where we need to get to. Here are 7 key trends to keep your pulse on this year:

Key Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Trends

  1. Employees are demanding their leaders take a political stance. The boundaries between workplace and political movements are blurring and employees are urging their leaders to speak out on key issues impacting them and their loved ones. According to research, “almost half of Americans between 18 and 36 years old saying they believe CEOs have a responsibility to publicly express their opinion about social issues such as equal pay and health care.” Another recent research by Edelman revealed 64% of survey respondents believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. Stephen Kehoe, Edelman’s global chair of reputation provides a sharp advice to all businesses: “Respondents are telling us that job number one for CEOs now is to focus on building trust. Part of that is about speaking up. We’ve seen some of that over the past year; arguably we’d say CEOs need to do a lot more, helping to address people’s fears and concerns.
  2. Inclusion is now a requirement for being a good manager. With no signs of political and social movements slowing down, managers in today’s workforce need to be equipped to lead diverse teams and build team resilience. We’re seeing a desperate need to fill the gap that exists in the traditional manager training approach, where essential managerial skills don’t include skills to foster an inclusive work culture for their teams. For example, managers are being taught to provide “effective feedback” but are not being educated on how to ensure their feedback isn’t rooted in bias — hellooooooo! In order to get the buy-in from managers and to make the learning practical, “D&I” education needs to be tightly woven into the core business and be seen as a business imperative rather than a “nice to have.” Remember, great managers equal inclusive managers.
  3. Companies truly committed to D&I are looking to do more than just check a box. This desire may be stemming from the pressure building from the employee base as well as the public. We heard from many companies’ employees and organizations’ engagement survey results that there is a lack of “real” commitment to Diversity and Inclusion by their leaders beyond marketing slogans. This lack of trust in leadership leads to increased cynicism, which makes launching successful D&I programs that much more difficult. Having a one-time 2-hour long Unconscious Bias Training seems like the most basic box to check nowadays, but truly committed leaders are wanting to do more. Unfortunately, according to a nation-wide survey, 57% of U.S. workers said they did not know what actions their company is taking to address the issue of discrimination and harassment. An additional 25% did not believe their companies were taking any action.
  4. There is a clear distinction between diversity and inclusion. Companies are finally realizing having a diverse workforce doesn’t in and of itself guarantee inclusive culture. Without a conscious effort to develop an inclusive culture, retaining a diverse workforce becomes nearly impossible. Doh!
  5. Companies are struggling to measure and quantify inclusion. In an effort to build a business case, leaders are challenged with measuring and quantifying “inclusion.” Without a proven way to quantify inclusion and unclear proof of return on investment (ROI), some companies feel gridlocked on how to move forward (Pro Tip: check out Culture Amp or Awaken’s Inclusion Survey templates).
  6. Everyone and their mom is throwing their hat into becoming a D&I “expert” — and it’s creating a lot of freaking noise. There is no shortage of opinions and “experts” on D&I these days. We see new D&I branded conferences, (super expensive) private seminars and programs, and passionate independent consultants emerging every day. There’s a lot of content being pushed out to anxious leaders wanting to do more and it’s painful and confusing to cut through all the noise. Knowing enough to understand who the true thought leaders are in the space is becoming increasingly critical for companies looking to hire internal or external D&I leaders to form an effective D&I strategy.
  7. There’s an upsurge in first-time D&I leaders with good intentions and eagerness to learn. “I used to be a recruiter with a passion for D&I, and this year, they changed my title.” We hear this a lot. There is a massive surge in newly opened D&I roles — the good news is that companies are finally seeing the need for a dedicated role/team. The downside is that they’re rushing to fill these roles with anyone who seems remotely interested or qualified. People with good intentions are stepping into these D&I leadership roles, but often without much support or knowledge on how to actually lead effective and thoughtful D&I initiatives and programs. Reliable and credible external thought leadership is yet again playing a key role in setting these newcomers up for success.

As we look ahead, 2018 will undoubtedly put more pressure on today’s leaders to do more to make their organizations inclusive, while providing opportunities for those passionate about D&I to have a voice.

In order to skillfully navigate the tension that’s building in and outside of our workplaces, organizations’ leaders need to pay close attention to identifying true thought leaders to help guide their journey, and commit to doing more beyond signing off marketing slogans or memorizing soundbites.


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About Michelle Kim

Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the Co-founder and CEO of Awaken and Owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.