Corporate Leaders Divided on DEI Commitment Amid Growing Controversy

Throughout 2024 so far, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been the topic of conversation. Billionaires like Elon Musk and Bill Ackman’s public disdain for policies at their respective companies have garnered mixed reviews.

However, as companies dismantle the programs, there are still business executives who are fully committed to DEI, even going as far as doubling down on the programs that are currently in place.

According to Fortune, a study conducted by management consulting firm Bridge Partners revealed that roughly 72% of C-suite and Human Resources (HR) leaders plan to enhance their current DEI efforts over the next two years. More than 400 business executives with at least 250 employees or $25 million in revenue were polled.

On the other hand, just about 4% of leaders at companies said they plan to cut back on DEI initiatives or eliminate the programs.

While about 94% of survey respondents claim that DEI is important due to its “positive impact on recruiting, hiring, and retention,” another 74% believe that the programs help improve a company’s reputation with customers and the public. About 68% say the push for more DEI programs helps to foster innovation and creativity.

Although the top-line numbers show that DEI is in a good space, other figures in the report suggest otherwise.

When asked if DEI is more important today than it was five years ago, the numbers dropped—from 82% who said yes in 2023 to 73% in 2024. Additionally, one in four executives see DEI programs as “one-sided, biased, and likely a fad that will go away.” What’s more, 33% say that the initiatives “unfairly advance some employees but not others.”

One statistic that doesn’t appear hopeful regarding DEI: the share of employers increasing DEI investments fell from 77% in 2023 to 66% in 2024.

“There is this sort of dichotomy of: ‘Yes, we understand the business case. Yes, we want to continue to invest. Yes, we’re in this for the long term. But also, it’s a fad, and it’s unfair,’” said Tory Clarke, Bridge Partners partner and cofounder. “The conclusion that we’ve come to as we’ve pored through all of this data depends on who you’re asking.”

According to the poll, DEI is a big deal for HR and executive leaders, with 87% and 75% calling it a “high priority.”

Board members, shareholders, and external stakeholders are the least likely to prioritize DEI, with only 57%, 41%, and 35%, respectively, calling it a high priority.

Clarke said the C-suite becoming more diverse offers a glimmer of hope. However, there is still a long road ahead for DEI proponents, said Clarke, who noted that the current backlash is just “one of many that diversity initiatives have faced over the years.”

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