Last year at this time, a wave of companies were reflecting on how they could truly advance diversity, equity & inclusion, in response to demonstrations against much-publicized police brutality. Demographics were scrutinized, and it became obvious that a number of high-profile organizations lacked diversity, with most employees of color remaining in non-technical and non-leadership roles. Many companies published pledges, others made financial commitments, and many took a hard look at what needed to be done internally. 

Within the tech sector, proclamations rang particularly loud. Well-known tech firms – including Apple, Google, and Yelp – assessed their historically homogeneous workforce and cultures, promising to make both aspects more aligned with DEI objectives. One way they intended to go about this was through financial commitments.

A Fast Company survey of 42 big US-based tech companies revealed that the respondents had committed $3.8 billion to DEI work, with Microsoft committing the most ($772.5 Million). The largest share of the funds were committed to Black-owned businesses (75%), and the rest are marked for education (10%), racial justice (11%), internal initiatives, and loans and deposits into Black-owned banks (4%). Money is a great way to demonstrate one’s level of commitment to a cause; however, employees, investors and other stakeholders aren’t appeased by promises of monetary investment alone. For employees and community members, that’s especially true when the commitments are a drop in the bucket when compared to corporate operating incomes.

In the words of Chloe Cheyenne Rogers, Founder and CEO of Activism Platform CommunityX: “The problem with money, especially donations, is that donations don’t change attitudes and they don’t change policies.”

How can companies take the next step to demonstrate commitments to DEI? Here are four ideas:

  1. Follow through on monetary commitments. Be transparent by regularly disclosing how much money has been spent, where it is going, and how those ongoing actions and decisions align with your culture and goals.
  2. Consider policy changes that advance a culture of inclusion. Big tech is also attempting to make DEI progress via policy changes, but that is a slow process and requires more effort. About half the companies surveyed declared Juneteenth to be an important day, yet prior to the day being declared a federal holiday, none considered Juneteenth a company holiday. That is one policy that I expect many companies will change next year, which will be an opportunity to advance a culture of inclusion. Last week, I suggested ways that companies looking to improve inclusion can go beyond giving PTO to all employees – e.g., by helping to educate employees on the meaning of Juneteenth and suggesting ways to support Black-led organizations in your community.
  3. Consider employee education – but proceed with caution. Anti-bias training is another way tech companies try to create more inclusive cultures. Forty-eight percent of survey respondents now have mandatory training and 35% are in the process of making it optional. Some require that only management participate in training while keeping it optional for other employees. Tech companies are split on making it mandatory because research suggests that mandating it is often ineffective.
  4. Continue to diversify your boards. There is a strong sentiment among investors and corporate governance practitioners that adding board members from historically underrepresented groups helps with overall strategic decision-making. Initiatives to diversify boards have been underway for several years – but prior to last year, they focused on gender diversity more than racial diversity. Now, 71% of the big tech companies in the Fortune survey currently have at least one Black board member. Nearly 40% of those companies appointed their first Black board member in 2020 or 2021, and 29% of companies surveyed do not currently have a Black board member.

A year is certainly not enough time to create systemic change; however, over the course of the last year, companies invested money and embarked on policy changes to transform their workplaces – and workforces – to better embrace DEI objectives. Liz and Lynn have been blogging throughout proxy season about the solid levels of support for shareholder proposals on diversity-related topics, including disclosure of EEO-1 reports and racial equity audits. With the spotlight now firmly on demonstrating DEI progress, and big tech striving to be leaders, we are likely to see more improvements occurring in the future.

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