After years of seeing progress, the recent numbers on DEI can be deflating. Support for DEI programs—which initially rose on account of George Floyd—have reportedly fallen by 18% over the past two years. Many of our experts now worry about this momentum slipping even further.
But they also worry about who is making the decision to cut back. Experts say most firms still lack a strong succession plan that produces leaders from underrepresented groups. Only 5.9% of all US chief executives are Black, for instance, while Black Americans comprise 13.6% of the population. This incongruence, which applies across other underrepresented groups, may well be tied to those calling the shots. Experts say many carry unconscious biases or lack a strong connection to the issues around inclusivity. “As a leader, you become empathetic if you either have the shared experience or you can relate to the shared experience of others,” says Flo Falayi, an Associate Client Partner in Korn Ferry’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practice.
Experts, however, caution that an all-too-common patchwork approach to diversity won’t enable leaders to emerge who look different from the leaders of yesteryear. They describe three basic models for diversity design: the universal, the differentiated, and the inclusive.
Universal design asks professionals to assimilate and fit the mold of an organization—e.g. play golf, drink scotch, have an Ivy League degree—which can be challenging at best and damaging at worst. Differentiated design aims to support individuals from diverse backgrounds on a parallel track, but it reflects the organization’s inherent lack of a structure that works for all employees.
Inclusive design, on the other hand, empowers people that come from different walks of life right from the beginning; however, it often calls for an overhaul of company practices and requires the involvement of the underrepresented. “The people with the blind spots are creating the system—without co-creating alongside the people the system is meant for,” says Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner and Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategist.