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As economic uncertainties continue, companies are in survival mode.  With large-scale layoffs, we see reports of DEI teams and initiatives eliminated.  Unfortunately, this is inevitable at companies that still consider DEI a “nice-to-have” and make surface-level commitments when the economy and company are thriving.  When times are tough, companies eliminate teams they don’t believe add value – i.e., generating revenue.

But your diversity efforts don’t have to stall because of economic turmoil. Companies that keep DEI a top priority during tough economic times understand the value of DEI and align initiatives with business needs. Partnering with DEI leaders helps companies prioritize DEI during economic uncertainties. Here are tips on how to do just that.

Manage DEI Programs More Resourcefully

Find ways to reduce costs that still maintain DEI programs. For instance, are there alternative vendors that offer high-quality programs for less? Is there training you can temporarily run in-house? To align with the resource needs of my company, I redesigned our training so we get more value from our current resources. I run our Unconscious Bias and Allyship in Action Workshops in-house and revamped them from 2-hour to 1-hour sessions.  Employees can now participate while also continuing to support the business in their respective functions.  In addition, we use LinkedIn Learning courses as a pre-read for our in-house DEI training because we already pay for a company-wide subscription.

Communicate Business Outcomes

Now is the time to emphasize the business value of your DEI program. Share the ways your DEI programs benefit the business. Discuss the benefits of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive company on creativity, innovation, belonging, psychological safety, company culture, company branding, and retention. Look at cost savings from improved employee retention rates and new revenue streams resulting from DEI-centric products or services. Cost savings may be achieved by switching to new vendors that are aligned with DEI commitments. Share as much data and detail as you can, as often as possible.

Work with Leaders to Avoid Adverse Impact of Layoffs

Partner with your leadership team, HR, and legal team to ensure that there is no outsized impact on marginalized groups in layoffs. You’ll need to analyze data to assess whether layoffs will disproportionately impact different groups within your employee base. Adverse impact on underrepresented groups signals your company’s bias and preference for the whole workforce and creates legal risk.

Keep Risk of DEI Regression Top Mind

Eliminating DEI program resources during this time actually contradicts corporate goals, commitments to investors and could negatively affect ESG ratings. Many companies have taken years and resources to make DEI progress. It’s important to sound the alarm that deprioritizing DEI would put achieving those goals and commitments at risk, along with the resources and effort invested in the progress. 

Remind Leaders that Trust, Morale, and Reputation are Imperatives

These concepts are hard to quantify, but they have a real impact on business results as they impact the ability of a company to attract and keep top talent and directly impact productivity.  These are all negatively impacted if your company eliminates DEI programs, spaces, and its commitments to DEI. Don’t forget how punishing social media can be.

As you demonstrate the ways your DEI initiative aligns with the current business needs, don’t forget to share this alignment with leadership to help them understand that DEI is a valuable strategic element and prioritizing it helps the business reach its goals in any economy.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile