DEI Recruiting Trends

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DEI Recruiting Trends

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have gotten a lot of attention over the past few years - but recent developments have brought the concept into question, including the elimination of DEI departments from some of the original innovators of the idea. The purpose of this article is to separate the lore from the truth and take an honest and realistic look at the future of DEI in hiring.

First, let's go back to the history of Equal Opportunity and what it means for DEI. The concept of Equal Opportunity came out of The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s as Black and African American individuals fought for equal rights, pay, and treatment with their White counterparts- but this is just the "tip of the iceberg." The fight for equality goes back more than 160 years to the Civil War. As individual States and the Federal government fought for the power to write laws and create policies to govern the people, a great divide formed. The dividing line (which we now know as "The North" or "The Union," and "The South" or the "Confederacy") between the states created a fracture that split families, and friends and ended in a bloody Civil War that killed an estimated 700,000 people- more than 2% of the population at the time.

But it wasn't until almost 100 years later that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his infamous, "I Have a Dream" speech in which he stated his vision that someday, people would be judged, not “by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.” 100 years of waiting for justice and equality. A debt that had been long overdue.

100 years and 2 months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant marking an end to the Civil War the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) opened its doors with the express purpose of eliminating discriminatory practices in the workplace and creating the concept of "equal opportunity for all." The EEOC was a critical step towards workplace equality- but it was only the first step.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) encapsulates a much bigger concept than equality of opportunity. Moving beyond the baseline of equal opportunity and non-discrimination was step one, but DEI focuses on creating a proactively inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are valued and everyone can thrive.

This shift is as much mental as it is organizational. It means going from compliance to commitment, from a lack of discrimination to celebrating and leveraging human differences to create a richer, more productive, profitable, and inclusive workplace. And, recruiting trends show that's exactly what's happening.

In 2023 a Forbes article stated that diverse teams were 12% more productive than homogenous ones. In 2015, the famous McKinsey report titled, Why Diversity Matters (and later showcased as a case study in the Harvard Business Review) showed that of 366 public companies:

  • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

*These points were taken directly from their original report - you can click this link to download the full report.

As organizations began to recognize the value of creating a diverse workforce, DEI recruiting trends showed a significant upswing. Fair and equitable hiring practices are not just the law, they are now part of organizational mission statements and initiatives, and they're actively being implemented at almost every company in the U.S. (although we still have a lot of work left to do). Hiring tools like interview intelligence to mitigate or eliminate bias are now commonplace. As we look toward the future of DEI, it is clear that these recruiting trends will continue to evolve, and that's what we're going to talk about in the next section- the evolution of DEI in recruitment.

Evolution Of DEI In Recruiting

Innovations, revolutions, and evolutions are kind of like a pendulum. As the momentum around an idea builds, so too does the risk of it being taken too far. In the stock market we call these "bubbles,"  and they can be devastating. In DEI, we find ourselves at a similar crossroads.

In December of 2022, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an article by Lily Zheng, a DEI Impact Consultant and author of "DEI Deconstructed: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Doing the Work and Doing it Right.," lamenting the "Failure of the DEI-Industrial Complex" where they talked about how DEI has become a buzzword, a "business case” for “diversity rhetoric."

The problem with DEI as a "business case" is that it feels hollow. Like a promise that's never fulfilled. People don't want to be treated as an "initiative" or the result of a policy, they want to be seen, heard, and most of all valued- and this is where we've seen the pendulum swing too far.

The Washington Post published an article citing Revelio Labs data that showed DEI jobs had been cut by more than 5% in 2023, and by February of 2024 (only two months into the new year) they'd shrunk by another 8%. The article was titled, "As DEI gets more divisive, companies are ditching their teams," and cited what they called a "corporate pullback" at Zoom, Snap, Meta, Tesla, DoorDash, Lyft, Home Depot, Wayfair and X.

Some people called this the "death of inclusion," but an interesting pattern emerged. The divisiveness of certain teams created conflict within organizations that fell out of favor with leaders, some of whom truly cared about creating representation and inclusion within organizational culture. At Zoom, they responded to this conflict by hiring DEI consultants to (in the words of their COO, Aparna Bawa) "...champion inclusion by embedding our values … directly into our people programs rather than as a separate initiative."

While some may view this as a platitude, I believe that embedding inclusion into the core people programs of a business better serves the overall mission of DEI and the employees within the business. As companies begin to make this part of their DNA rather than "an initiative," we should see a shift toward the true heart behind equal opportunity. 2024 recruiting trends show that this is possible if we keep working together.

Amid setbacks and criticism, DEI has become a powerful way for employees to feel that they have a voice. That they're not alone, and that they're not just a number to meet an arbitrary "compliance metric." True diversity, equity, and inclusion should be integral to an organization's culture, promoting diverse voices and implementing policies with genuine intent. These efforts will transform the "superficial DEI commitments" that Lily Zheng mentioned, into a deeply ingrained culture that genuinely values people no matter their age, ethnicity, or gender.

The recent evolution of DEI in recruiting has led to innovative strategies, tools, and practices that shape current DEI trends in 2024, some of these tools include augmented writing tools like Textio, tests like Project Implicit’s Free Bias Test created in collaboration with Harvard University, and Pillar's interview intelligence software among others.

DEI Best Practices 2024

Now that we've covered the difference between DEI initiatives and embedding them into organizational culture and people programs, let's talk about new DEI Best Practices for 2024.

"God is dead... and we have killed him." German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously says three times in his book The Gay Science. This sentiment echoes a question I see a lot online today; "Is DEI going away?" Have we killed it with hubris?

Thankfully the answer is, "No," but DEI is being reshaped at the moment. DEI backlash has caused a host of challenges that, like the pendulum swinging too far in one direction have caused an imbalance that's going through a correction. As we've seen the backlash from "divisive teams" in companies, it's become clear that there needs to be a shift in how DEI is implemented.

So many companies jumped on the DEI bandwagon in such a short time, that it became a "fad." As investments from funds like BlackRock prioritized companies with DEI as a core value, many organizations joined the bandwagon for the wrong reasons. The sad fact is, that it's become easier for organizations to publicly proclaim their support for diversity and inclusion today without taking any real action towards achieving it. This can create a sense of mistrust from employees who may see these empty promises as mere lip service. As a result, there's been a tremendous backlash against these empty promises.

Catalyst posted a great article with resources that will be helpful as you navigate any DEI backlash you may be facing within your organization. In it, the author states several DEI best practices for 2024, but #1 is my favorite: "Strengthen your message and ensure that it resonates authentically." DEI is "best- served" with warmth and authenticity.

In conclusion, authenticity is everything. If you take nothing else from this little diatribe of mine,  please understand that authenticity is key to achieving actual diversity, equity, and inclusion within any organization. Top recruiting trends of the future will show whether we are successful in this endeavor or not. But remember, it's not about ticking boxes or following trends, it's about genuinely valuing all individuals and fostering a culture that promotes their growth and success.

At Pillar, we've made fair and objective hiring our central mission. If you'd like to see how interview intelligence can help you mitigate bias and increase diversity hiring by more than 40%, book a demo today to learn more.