From Moment to Movement

A new report by Korn Ferry and the Global Black Economic Forum shows that despite critics' claims, innovative companies sustaining DEI efforts are seeing growth.

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the DEI field grew significantly, becoming a multibillion-dollar practice. Organizations increased their efforts in DEI by investing in underserved communities, providing unconscious bias training, and strengthening their DEI departments. Yet, recently, some companies have started to pull back due to political challenges, raising questions about whether the field will grow or shrink in the future.

To find the answers, Korn Ferry, in partnership with the Global Black Economic Forum (GBEF) and its Academy for Advancing Excellence, conducted a study on DEI’s evolution and effectiveness. Despite critics' claims of companies moving away from DEI, their findings reveal a different trend: The most innovative organizations are integrating DEI deeper into their business models through inclusive workplace policies, training, and supply chain diversity.

The companies sustaining DEI commitments, particularly in leading sectors like finance and technology, have seen positive impacts on growth, according to the study. On the other hand, others that take fragmented approaches are failing to meet or make significant progress in their DEI goals. “There is a coordinated effort to combat the progress corporate America has made in diversity and equity these past few years,” says Alphonso David, President & CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum.The goal of this report is to replace rhetoric with facts so that we all better understand how DEI impacts business results.”

Over the past five years, financial services saw a 64% increase in specific DEI roles, and advanced tech firms experienced an 89% rise, based on Korn Ferry’s analysis of nearly 5400 public companies. This shift contributed to improved brand recognition, higher employee engagement, and organizational growth, such as increased revenue and stock prices. However, not all industries have sustained their efforts. This is particularly true for commodity-based industries: natural resources, for example, showed an initial increase in companies with DEI roles post-Floyd, rising from 39% to 43% within six months. Yet this growth has since fluctuated, leading to unclear correlations between DEI role expansion and financial performance, per Korn Ferry’s research.

The report also shows that industries known for innovation—like life sciences, technology, and healthcare—excel in skills associated with inclusive leadership. Analyzing Korn Ferry’s leadership assessment data across sectors reveals that these industries score high in "Diversify Perspectives," encompassing competencies like "Valuing Differences," "Cultivating Innovation," and "Situational Adaptability"—critical for driving innovation. Conversely, commodity-based sectors like utilities and energy, alongside the media industry, scored below average on these metrics.

“Today’s business environment is shaped by globalization, changing demographics, skills shortages, and the constant demand for innovation,” says JT Saunders, Korn Ferry’s Chief Diversity Officer. “As challenges grow more complex, leaders will need to develop these inclusive behaviors to achieve their innovation goals.”

Organizations—especially those undergoing digital transformations—should also prioritize inclusive design, ensuring all talent can contribute meaningfully to mission-critical activities regardless of their differences. Korn Ferry’s findings show that, among top-performing companies with an advanced digital presence, those investing in DEI remain relevant and see higher retention rates, longer employee tenure, and better gender diversity than digital companies that do not focus on DEI. “These numbers suggest that DEI is a key strategic element for digital transformation, fueling growth and a more inclusive workforce,” says Alina Polonskaia, Global Leader of Korn Ferry’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consulting Practice.

When organizations embed DEI into their values and strategy, they will attract, retain, and develop the talent and skills needed for an increasingly tech-driven future. But how can organizations create cultures that are both transformative and inclusive? Drawing from survey data, interviews, and extensive research, Korn Ferry identified five key actions to integrate DEI into business operations, helping organizations grow, innovate, and stay competitive:

1. Empower all leaders to take ownership of DEI, from setting goals to implementing strategies.

After George Floyd’s murder, organizations boosted DEI training and leadership development—highlighted by 67% of DEI professionals who responded to Korn Ferry’s survey. Educating and developing leaders at all levels is key to driving progress. Sustainable change requires leaders at all levels to collaborate, using DEI metrics with clear accountability.

2. Use DEI initiatives to drive innovation and access new markets.

Diverse companies see 19% higher innovation revenue and inclusive teams are 75% more successful with their ideas. Achieving these outcomes demands intentional actions: building trust, creating spaces for reflection, overcoming engagement barriers, and promoting awareness of social, cognitive, and cultural differences.

3. Design talent systems inclusively to support a diverse workforce and prevent talent loss.

As demographics evolve, talent systems must adapt for diversity. Inclusive design, focusing on all individuals' needs, offers a solution. Leaders should understand their organization's diversity, pinpoint exclusion, and develop effective talent management to unlock hidden potential and retain talent.

4. Use technology and analytics to implement evidence-based DEI strategies.

All survey respondents agree that technology is essential for promoting DEI. Companies using advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can integrate evidence-based, equity-centered strategies into their culture. These tools help track retention, address skill gaps, promote inclusivity, and gauge employee sentiment on behavioral and structural issues. Digital platforms also amplify diverse voices, aligning initiatives with organizational goals.

5. Recognize DEI's value to stakeholders, including employees and community groups.

Korn Ferry’s survey data shows that community groups and consumers, alongside employees, drive DEI initiatives, signaling a growing demand for equity in business and society. Strategic investments in DEI not only broaden market reach and spur innovation but also improve brand growth, consumer loyalty, and long-term success for companies committed to these principles.

Download the full report here.

To find out how Korn Ferry helps organizations become more inclusive, learn more about the firm’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion capabilities.

Download the Report