Survey: Who’s responsible for DE&I programs and progress?

New data reveals gaps in and accountability for inclusion initiatives. Also, find out which types of trainings companies are prioritizing amid an ongoing reckoning on race.

DE&I delineation and ownership has become a hot topic in the past year.

Ideally, it’s something everyone plays a role in. But who, exactly, is responsible for establishing programs, measuring progress and ensuring accountability?

According to workers representing 383 U.S. employers who responded to XpertHR’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Employer Trends Survey 2021, 52% of companies look to their chief human resources officer to helm corporate inclusion efforts. The CEO, president, or owner is at least partially responsible for DE&I at 36% of organizations, followed by:

  • Volunteer employee groups (such as ERGs) (15%)
  • A chief DE&I officer (11%)
  • Chief operating officer (7%)
  • Chief financial officer (5%)
  • General counsel (4%)
  • Outside consultant(s) (2%)

(Respondents could choose more than one option if responsibility is shared.)

About two in 10 (19%) of respondents wrote-in some sort of “other” option, such as “social justice work group,” “director of community services,” and “board of directors.” Seventeen percent of respondents indicated that “no one” is officially responsible for DE&I at their company.

This particular survey did not shed light on where “communication pros” fit into this DE&I mix. However, there seems to be no shortage of opportunities for communicators to lead on DE&I issues. Communicators can certainly exert influence in terms of messaging, storytelling, proactively supporting ERGs and fighting for internal change.

There are plenty of ways to fill gaps in corporate DE&I leadership—and accountability.

“The survey results show that chief DE&I officer positions are uncommon,” notes Andrew Hellwege, surveys editor for XpertHR, “and that instead, organizations prefer to entrust diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to their CHRO.”

Popular DE&I activities and oversight(s)

The survey also gathered intel on what companies are doing to push DE&I progress. According to respondents, the most common activity is anti-harassment training, which is conducted at 70% of responding companies. Anti-discrimination training (56%) and unconscious bias training (48%) are the second- and third-most common trainings, respectively. (Respondents could choose more than one option.)

Less popular initiatives are training on microaggressions (21%), psychological safety (11%), and allyship (10%). Few companies are providing DE&I training that is specifically geared toward executives (11%), managers (20%), or non-managers (15%).

The findings on DE&I accountability were bleak, at best. The survey found that just 14% of responding organizations have conducted a DE&I audit, compared with 29% that have not conducted one but are planning to conduct one “in the near future.” Thirty-nine percent have not conducted an audit and have no immediate plans to do so, and 17% were “not sure.”

“While few responding employers have conducted a diversity, equity, and inclusion audit, about three in 10 are planning to do so in the near future, indicating that there is some potential for the growth in popularity of DE&I audits,” says Hellwege.

That may be the case, but whether companies continue to commit investment, energy and resources into inclusion efforts remains to be seen. It will take no shortage of consistent internal pressure, momentum and accountability to keep employers walking the walk instead of just talking the talk.

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