Leaders failing to take ownership for driving EDI outcomes is top challenge, survey finds

Commentators say bosses cannot be responsible for ‘day to day’ diversity and inclusion as a quarter plan for employees resisting change

Credit: Wanlee Prachyapanaprai/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Half (51 per cent) of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) leaders say their top challenge is business leaders “failing to take ownership” for driving outcomes, data reveals. 

In a survey of 181 EDI leaders by Gartner HR, a third (29 per cent) of respondents reported a lack of dedicated EDI staff to make considerable progress. 

The research, conducted between September and October 2022, polled EDI leaders on their proficiency, effectiveness and experiences leading the EDI function, and also found that while 70 per cent felt senior leaders were “critical stakeholders” to the strategy, many said they had to “continuously coach” leaders on why EDI matters to the organisation. 

Additionally, a third (31 per cent) indicated ineffective coordination of EDI efforts across disparate operating units or functions. 

EDI needs to be a part of company culture, according to Kate Underwood, managing director and HR director at Kate Underwood HR and Training, who said this was the only way to entrench it into an organisation. “Although it should come from the top down, getting employees engaged and getting their ideas is a great way to embed them into a company's culture,” said Underwood, adding that while leaders were responsible for EDI they were “not necessarily responsible for the day to day”. 

Previous People Management reporting on the CIPD’s Inclusion at work 2022 report found that just under half (47 per cent) of leaders do not have a ready EDI strategy or action plan in place. 

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In the report, carried out in partnership with Reed, a quarter (25 per cent) admitted their EDI activities were entirely or mostly “reactive to issues or reporting requirement changes”. 

Jacqui Barrett, co-founder and managing director of Wider Thinking, said EDI needed to be measured for organisations to “really understand” their people, and that the measurement must be “as accurate as possible” for it to be effective. “Data is useless if it is inaccurate and can set a journey on to a different trajectory, creating further issues and wastes of time and energy,” said Barret. “Many internal anonymous surveys do not show the real picture because of our nervousness that our identity may be revealed to someone in HR.” 

Barret added that enlisting an independent third party to support HR would enable people professionals to inform decision makers on how to “make the right choices to dismantle the structures” preventing an organisation from being more inclusive.

The Gartner HR data also revealed that a quarter (23 per cent) of EDI leaders must “navigate and plan” for employees resisting EDI change efforts. 

Chandra Robinson, director at Gartner HR, said EDI leaders could no longer take a reactive approach to EDI, and encouraged them to champion their efforts. “As both business and labour market disruption remain the norm, DEI leaders must be proactive in uprooting workplace inequities and purposefully advocate for their function,” said Robinson.