Feb 23, 2024 - Economy

The curious state of corporate DEI efforts

Illustration of a hurdle shaped and colored like a leather briefcase

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Efforts to remove career advancement barriers for underrepresented workers have become strained over the past year amid broad DEI backlash.

Why it matters: Some of the progress achieved since 2020 in providing access to opportunity — including improvements in hiring and promotion of Black employees — is at risk of being rolled back.

State of play: Major U.S. companies, including Meta, Tesla and Home Depot, shrank their DEI teams by 50% or more last year, according to estimates from workforce intelligence company Revelio Labs, per Washington Post.

  • And the number of job postings on Indeed with DEI in the title or description have declined nearly as fast over the past year as they grew in 2021, per CNN.

Zoom out: "Many companies jumped on the bandwagon at the moment because it was fashionable and en vogue to do so," Shaun Harper, founder and executive director of the USC Race and Equity Center, told CNN.

  • Zoom in: Those initial goals weren't sustainable — especially as budgets weren't appropriately allocated, he added.

Reality check: The true picture of what's happening inside American companies is more nuanced, however.

  • Business leaders say they're still committed to diversity, Axios' Emily Peck has reported.
  • A recent study from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation also found that many are doubling down.
  • Yes, but: Companies, wary of public backlash, are being quieter about their strategies.

The big picture: W.K. Kellogg Foundation president and CEO La June Montgomery Tabron, in a recent interview with Axios, said DEI should be explained as "racial equity — that your outcomes are not determined by the color of your skin, but rather by your pursuits and your desires and your drive."

  • What the backlash reflects, she said, is a perception that "any level of intentional representation" is equated with "a lack of quality and a degradation of skill and talent."
  • "We need to definitely decouple that type of language."

Our thought bubble: Less talk about diversity, equity and inclusion has also been taking place at the same time that execs have had to manage companies through a higher cost environment, reflecting where priorities lie.

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