Over the past decade, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become an increasingly important topic for organizations of all sizes. In recent years though, DEI has gone from a topic typically relegated to human resources to a focus of executives and board members everywhere – spurred by Black Lives Matter, the Me Too Movement and other events that have put systemic inequality and discrimination into the national spotlight.
For organizations, addressing DEI in a meaningful way should begin with having a clear picture of the current U.S. workforce and how certain populations traditionally have been disadvantaged and marginalized.
Diversity in the Workplace Statistics
At a glance, the race and ethnicity demographics of the U.S. workforce reflect those of the overall U.S. population. White Americans make up the overwhelming majority (77%), followed by Black Americans (13%), then Asian Americans at 6% – with other groups accounting for approximately 3.5%. Those of Hispanic origin make up 17.5% of the labor force.
When looking at those in leadership positions, those figures begin to shift – underscoring the lack of diversity and equity at many organizations. At the executive level, 85% of those positions are held by white employees, whereas Black and Hispanic employees account for 2% and 3% of those positions, respectively.
Sadly, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on employment has accentuated issues of diversity in the U.S. workforce. In May 2020, unemployment for white employees dropped from 14.2% to 12.4%. Conversely, unemployment for Black workers rose from 16.7% to 16.8%.
COVID-19’s Impact on Women
Like every other facet of business, the coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention to the disparities facing many individuals in the workforce. Among those most affected: working mothers.
Irrespective of the pandemic, just under half of working women (46%) hold low-paying jobs, with a median earning of $10.93 per hour, according to the Brookings Institute. Those figures go up significantly for women of color: with 54% of Black women and 64% of Hispanic women working these jobs.
Since the pandemic began, low-paying jobs have been among the most affected in a number of ways. For many, it meant the positions were reduced or simply cut entirely. Because many low-paying jobs also were unable to transition to remote work, those who were able to stay employed did so facing the routine potential exposure to the virus. At home, women also were those who shouldered most of the logistics regarding school-aged kids’ remote learning – adding stress to an already overwhelming situation.
Understandably, all of this has made some women question if they should scale back their careers or even leave the workforce entirely. Of women with children under 10 years old, 17% considered reducing their work commitments, while 23% considered stepping back altogether – either to take a leave of absence or quitting permanently.
Disabilities and Inclusion
Traditionally, many businesses have limited DEI discussions to demographics around ethnicity, race and sex. However, those with disabilities – both physical and mental – make up a considerable percentage of the workforce. Many might find the figure surprising.
According to the Center for Talent Innovation, 30% of the labor force meet the federal definition of having a disability. Unfortunately, many of these individuals have felt the need to hide or diminish their disability from their employer and colleagues. Less than four in 10 (39%) employees have told their manager, and for those working with clients, only 4% have revealed their disability to them. Less than a quarter (24%) have told their colleagues.
This is another area where the coronavirus pandemic has adversely impacted a group of already marginalized workers. Those with mental illnesses ranging from depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have encountered heightened stressors because of the global health crisis. It’s important that employers be sensitive to these challenges and provide those employees who may be struggling with the resources and flexibility they need.
Despite the troubling DEI figures plaguing the U.S. workforce, there is a growing consensus among organizations everywhere to rectify this problem in a meaningful way. As further studies are conducted, more evidence emerges illustrating how DEI efforts can positively impact companies’ culture, innovation and bottom line.
In the last five years, diversity-related job postings have risen tremendously as companies recognize that increased leadership diversity can lead to higher performing, more innovative teams who are more likely to achieve business goals and exceed financial targets. For example, postings for the title, “head of diversity,” have more than doubled (107%) since 2015.
DEI also is becoming more of a named priority for leadership of major companies. According to a report from Accenture, more than a third of executives listed it as one of their organization’s top priorities – behind more perennial focuses like increasing revenue (76%), driving innovation (57%) or expanding operations (54%).
It’s paramount that businesses continue to discuss DEI issues by assessing where and how they can improve and make commitments toward those areas. These are important, yet delicate issues relevant to every organization, and having the right insights and data to inform these discussions is critical. Our DEI trends report – available here – explores this topic in more detail, which we hope can help your organization navigate this topic!