As companies continue to compete over a small pool of qualified talent, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives should be top of mind. Embracing DEI efforts has cultural and financial benefits that make them critically important for businesses.

In a recent survey, 92% of workers surveyed said that company culture has an impact on their intent to stay with their current employer. When asked why they chose to leave a company, 54% said they didn’t feel valued by their organizations or their managers, while 51% said they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.

DEI initiatives are key components of creating an environment where employees feel respected and supported, helping to bolster worker retention and attract new talent. In fact, DEI is so important to younger workers that 83% of Gen Z candidates consider a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer, and 76% of millennials would leave an employer if DEI initiatives weren’t offered.

This risk of attrition has a steep price tag. When considering the costs associated with recruitment, training and the loss of productivity while a new employee is onboarded, some put the cost of hiring at three to four times a position’s salary.

DEI is more than a “nice to have,” and companies need to ensure they’re investing in effective DEI initiatives, instead of engaging in “check-box” DEI training.

The High Risk of Check-Box DEI Training

There’s real risk in not initiating DEI efforts. What’s less often talked about, however, is the risk of investing in poor DEI practices.

The practice of check-box DEI refers to surface-level DEI efforts that do not facilitate real change. Examples of this are rampant, from poorly thought-out holiday celebrations to controversial merchandising from big corporations.

These types of performative diversity efforts can be off-putting and even alienating to current and potential employees. Candidates are sophisticated and are likely to research companies before applying. This includes company websites, social media pages and employee reviews. Companies that pay lip service to DEI but don’t have actual efforts to showcase may see talent choose employers that more closely align with their values.

DEI is about more than posting feel-good stories on social media or celebrating certain holidays — it’s about examining current practices and seeing where change is needed, then taking on the hard work of improving. The term “check-box DEI” insinuates that it’s possible to “complete” DEI, eventually making further efforts unnecessary. But real DEI is an ever-evolving journey that has no definitive end.

Building and Implementing a Lasting DEI Strategy

Companies lacking diversity are missing out on top talent, as over one-third of job seekers will not apply to a company that lacks diversity in its workforce. It’s difficult to build a diverse and equitable organization without intentional DEI efforts driven from the top down. For DEI programs to be successful, there must be equal support from both senior leadership and employees across the company.


Leadership support for DEI is critical.

Effective DEI must be backed by strategy, and efforts need to start at the top. Getting buy-in from senior leadership is critical to the success of DEI efforts. No matter how passionate employees may be about supporting diversity initiatives, it’s up to leadership to secure the resources and commitment to lasting effort.

In some cases, getting senior leadership support may mean meeting decision-makers where they’re at. DEI efforts may have to start small. It’s important to assess what level of change is realistic in the short term while still working toward larger long-term goals.

When trying to secure leadership buy-in, it can be effective to look at how proposed DEI efforts can bolster larger organizational goals. If, for example, a company is putting a greater emphasis on retention, showing how DEI initiatives help increase employee engagement and sense of belonging may help leaders see the value of these programs.

DEI requires company-wide involvement.

Once leadership buy-in has been secured, DEI must become a company-wide endeavor. Over the last decade, the number of DEI-related roles has risen dramatically, with a 71% increase between 2015 and 2020. But while creating positions like chief diversity officer can be helpful to a company’s DEI goals, it’s important to remember that DEI isn’t a single person’s job.

Companies that rely solely on a DEI specialist will likely see their efforts fail. Analysis has showed that factors like a lack of organization-wide support have contributed to almost 60% of chief diversity officers leaving their roles since 2018. Layoffs are also on the rise; an estimated 1 in 3 DEI professionals lost their roles over a one-year period. This lack of resources, combined with increasing layoffs, shows that DEI programs created without thought to long-term sustainability are set up for failure. To achieve this sort of sustainability, companies must invest in making employees from all departments part of the solution.

One strategy is to create an employee resource group that helps conceptualize, implement and evaluate DEI efforts. These groups have a dual benefit: They can make employees feel heard and validated, while also drawing on employees’ diverse experiences to create authentic DEI initiatives. It’s important to note that DEI isn’t only the responsibility of employees from marginalized identities. Every employee should be an ally who contributes to company-wide change.

Effective DEI addresses deep rooted, systemic issues — and change won’t happen overnight. A company must be prepared to commit to DEI efforts in the long term to see real results.

Moving the Needle With a DEI Partner

Working with a workforce solutions partner with a commitment to DEI can help companies implement the types of evaluations and programming needed to move the needle in their organization.

This begins with a needs analysis to determine a company’s successes and areas of improvement within the DEI space. This type of unbiased evaluation of a company’s efforts helps provide a clear picture of where the company has opportunities to grow. Having an outside organization conduct this analysis can also help employees feel more comfortable providing feedback, ensuring companies get an honest look at how their employees view current DEI efforts.

Based on the results of this analysis, the solutions partner typically then meets with executives to secure leadership buy-in and determine a path forward. This could mean implementing new programming and training or helping to build a more diverse workforce through new recruitment efforts and channels.

By making a lasting commitment to driving change, and partnering with expert DEI solutions providers, companies can move away from check-box DEI initiatives once and for all.