Workplace Equity

Does it Really Change the Equation?


Ensuring inclusivity, equity, and diversity in the workplace and our communities has only recently begun to reveal its true benefits. But that hasn’t always been the case. 

It was only in 1980 that gender equity in the workplace came with federal protections via the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which issued regulations defining sexual harassment and stating it was a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We take it for granted, not to mention the fact that it now includes everyone.

Today, we see a lot of companies and organizations working to integrate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into their DNA. But can you force something to exist that isn’t already there? How do you change behavior and prejudice on a grand scale? 

Some would argue, you can’t.

Uncomfortable Conversations: The Resistance to DEI

Remarkably, even today, there is considerable resistance to integrating diversity and equity into corporate culture, and making it matter. Some feel it is unnecessary or simply too complicated to win over the status quo.

Indeed, last year, the state of Florida just passed HB 7, the “Stop (WOKE) Act that gives employees the right to file legal challenges and lawsuits against their employers if they are subjected to workplace diversity trainings that make them “uncomfortable”1. While a judge banned the law from being used in schools, at least thirteen other states are considering similar legislation. One can only imagine that those who feel uncomfortable are more than likely those who aren’t impacted by discrimination or marginalization.

But it also explains why the majority of corporate America is still mystified by not just why, but how to integrate DEI into their organization’s structure. Indeed, a 2021 study found that:

  1. 76% of companies have no diversity or inclusion goals at all;
  2. 75% of companies do not include diversity and inclusion as part of their leadership development;
  3. Only 32% mandate DEI training for employees and only one-third offer such training to managers; and
  4. Only 22% of respondents believe their organization’s DEI efforts have raised awareness among employers, customers or suppliers.
  5. Fewer than 12% of employers compensate or track their senior leaders for meeting specific diversity or inclusion goals. 2
The Impact of DEI on Human Resources

In fact, research has found that DEI doesn’t always move the needle with a company’s HR strategy because such “quota” systems only end up being just a tally sheet of hires. Simply hiring a quota of black or gay, or Hispanic employees doesn’t necessarily change a corporate culture, but it might satisfy the optics of a company’s appearance of equity.

Furthermore, more often than not, many companies see Human Resources DEI as a one-person role rather than a shared responsibility with department heads, senior management, or a dedicated internal team of representative stakeholders. As a result, such an initiative is insufficiently budgeted and awkwardly managed.

The truth is, integrating diversity into a company’s employee pool is relatively easy if you are simply looking for representation. Real inclusion is hard, and true equity even harder. It’s a major reason why people of color don’t always feel that their presence in a company makes a difference in how a company does business. The inevitable tokenism often results in them excluded from making key decisions or driving corporate change.

There are numerous cautionary tales of when companies have tried to hitch their horse to the bandwagon and the exercise backfired terribly.

How DEI Drives Business Optimization

So, the question remains, how does diversity and inclusion become an organic part of an organization’s philosophy — its people, its culture, and a cohesive brand pillar that is seamlessly reflected in the products or services the company delivers?

One must understand that a large part of the problem in quantifying the value of DEI is simply that the metrics for it as policy and brand asset are not always easy to measure. Simply because too many corporations treat DEI as a set of passive rules of employee/employer engagement rather than an active component of how a business operates.

It is when DEI becomes part of a company’s top to bottom business strategy, then we see a sea change in productivity, agility, and innovation. With a truly inclusive and diverse workforce with leadership that reflects that diversity, we start to see business transformation through a more multi-faceted approach to employee engagement, project execution. Diverse backgrounds and experiences influence and inspire new ways of working and approaching a problem.

Furthermore, the entire organization from top to bottom needs to reflect a diverse and inclusive talent pool. In recent academic research, it was found that companies benefit most when upper management and lower management are both racially diverse. Even a 1% increase in racial diversity similarity between upper and lower management, increased firm productivity by between $729 and $1590 per employee per year.3

The top driver for creating an impactful, equity-driven environment? The utilization of regular listening sessions and then taking action on the input from those sessions. Organizations that have put such listening and action strategies into place have seen a significant change in employee performance.

3.6 times more likely to innovate effectively.
6.6 times more likely to adapt to change.
8.4 times more likely to inspire a sense of belonging.
8.5 times more likely to satisfy and retain customers.
And 12 times more likely to engage and retain employees.

Case Studies in Transformational DEI

D&A Communications, with its 30-year history of integrating equity-based consulting for a broad range of PR clients, has consistently seen the way DEI has transformed stakeholder engagement with an organization’s role as a service provider. Integrating an equity-approach to business transformation and optimization that allows organizations of all stripes to innovate and discover new ways for stakeholder engagement.

We’ve seen it happen with a firm’s internal and external stakeholders, and more often than not — both.

Racial Bias in the Workplace: Clark Construction

Clark Construction is one of the country’s largest construction companies, and has a long history in San Francisco, working on landmark capital projects like the Golden State Warriors’ new home, the Chase Center, in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. Like many companies, they have focused on the intent for diversity, but not always with the right results. Its subcontractors are often in charge of staffing construction sites with workers, which can result in bringing team members from outside of California who might not have the same sensitivity to diverse workforces.

When a noose appeared on a job site, the construction company was understandably met with anger and outrage among internal and external stakeholders and shone a glaring spotlight on the racial gaps lurking in the construction industry. Clark sought D&A’s help to manage the crisis.

D&A realized that Clark Construction had made an effort to build an inclusive workforce that embraced and celebrated each other’s differences but hadn’t taken the extra step to ensure its subcontractors—particularly, the ones staffing the job sites—were doing the same. To that end, D&A recommended that Clark prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion as core values, and demonstrate these values through action. This entailed Clark Construction to encourage all contractors and subcontractors doing business with them to implement unconscious bias training in order to be considered for opportunities. 

Using an experienced facilitator, we were able to drill down into the “why” around the impact of systemic racism, without making people defensive or upset. Subcontractors were so responsive to the unconscious bias training that today, Clark Construction includes it in workers’ contracts when new projects occur.

Clark Construction is now a leader in promoting diversity and inclusion, hiring people of color, and giving back to marginalized communities. In an industry as white-and male-dominated as construction, they set an unprecedented example, one for other firms to model, thereby increasing opportunities for minorities in a lucrative industry.

Hi-Five: 5 Ways to Elevate Your Brand with DEI Best Practices

Committing to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion can be the most important decision you can make in building a successful business and a vibrant community. Here are some of the most important mechanics to making DEI a powerful tool that quantifiably improves how we live and work together.

1. Listen and Act
Frequently listen to employees and act on results.
Show that leaders believe diversity is good for business.
Support people to be their authentic selves.

2. Strengthen HR Capabilities in All Roles
Make sure HR can meaningfully consult on DE&I issues.
Invite business partners to actively seek out HR for DE&I issues.
Embed DE&I in every HR program.

3. Engage Senior Leadership Commitment
CEO sets DE&I vision and communicates progress.
CEO holds leaders accountable for DE&I outcomes.
DE&I strategy is an integral part of business strategy.

4. Set Goals and Measure

Invest in benchmarks to measure and drive DE&I.
Set outcome goals for inclusion (e.g., inclusion index).
Communicate DE&I metrics internally.

5. Create Accountability for Results
Drive DE&I in the entire ecosystem (partners, customers, vendors).
Embed DE&I in learning and leadership programs.
The Chief Distribution Officer distributes accountability for DE&I outcomes among leaders.4


End notes

  2. Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion, 2021.
  3. Academy of Management Journal Vol. 64, No. 5. The Effects of Racial Diversity Congruence between Upper Management and Lower Management on Firm Productivity. Orlando C. Richard, María del Carmen Triana and Mingxiang Li. Published Online: 27 Oct 2021.
  4.  Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion. Josh Bersin and Perceptyx, 2021.


Further Reading

Bonnie Marcus. Is Your Company Just Paying Lip Service To Diversity? Forbes, June 29, 2018.

Kathy Gurchiek. Report: Most Companies Are ‘Going Through the Motions’ of DE&I, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) February 23, 2021.

Josh Bersin. Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion, Bershin & Associates, 2021.

The Latest in DEI Fails: Walmart, Netflix, and Wells Fargo, FIG Strategy and Consulting, May 31, 2022.,drop%20the%20ball%20so%20badly.

Colleen Olphert, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as Smart Business Strategy, Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. April 12, 2022.

Jorge Rodriguez. How Diversity and Inclusion Drive Business Transformation, Forbes Business Council Development.  October 31, 2022.