Moving from Performative to Progressive: Getting Real About DE&I in 2024

Decoration image

Workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is at a crossroads in 2024. Creating fully inclusive workplaces requires a painful examination of where current efforts are falling short.

To succeed, business leaders need to renew their commitment. This demands taking an intersectional lens, hosting difficult conversations and reporting with transparency and integrity. There are no easy answers to each of these challenges, but courage and conviction can - and will - drive progress.

Here are three priorities all DE&I leaders must take over the coming year:

Centring intersectionality

In 2024, organisational leaders will be encouraged to take an intersectional approach to their DE&I and wider business strategy. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American academic, ‘intersectionality’ describes how race, class, gender and other personal characteristics ‘intersect’ with one another and overlap.

It can be easy for organisational leaders to adopt a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to their DE&I efforts to streamline and manage costs in a difficult economic market. That can manifest as creating ERG (employee resource groups) for different marginalised identities, investing in and putting on DE&I training programmes, or launching social media campaigns aimed at celebrating different identities.

But what about those employees who don’t fall into one group? What about Black, queer employees living with a disability? What about neuro-diverse, non-binary employees who immigrated from overseas?

When thinking about DE&I initiatives, it is important to recognise that people are so much more than just their race, sexual identity, and ability – they are the sum of all those parts, which means that one-dimensional efforts won’t cut it. For example, consider launching and leading Black History Month programming that digs into the history of QPoC (Queer People of Colour) - shedding light on the experiences of those balancing being black and queer. Consider hosting a variety of employee events in the daytime to avoid scheduling conflicts with working single parents. Finally, ensure that the company dress code is adapted to accommodate for those who wear religious clothing.

Engendering trust, inclusivity and belonging is an art form, and not an exact science. But the more targeted the actions, the more effective they will be in driving lasting progress.

Be prepared to have crucial (and difficult) conversations 

In 2023, we saw the heavy politicisation of DE&I which made it increasingly difficult to have crucial conversations about the very real societal challenges we face. From the weaponisation of the terms ‘ESG’ and ‘DE&I’ to the (unsubstantiated) allegations that ‘wokeness’ led to the demise of Silicon Valley Bank, it can feel daunting to engage in these conversations – especially from a business perspective.

But it’s important to recognise that at its root, DE&I is about creating space to have these difficult conversations so that we can change things for the better. If an employee was performing poorly, it would be the duty of effective managers to relay that feedback so that (ideally) something could be done to address it.

Similarly in DE&I, organisational leaders cannot bow out of conversations and topics because it’s ‘controversial’ or ‘complex’ - as these are the very real topics employees are personally navigating. During these times, employees want to feel seen and heard, and it can't be done by hiding away.

Instead, think about ways of creating organisational ‘safe spaces’ to broach these conversations. This could be having someone host an event, or bringing in outside trainers who can support with facilitating these tough discussions. For instance, at Missive we host regular ‘Seat at the Table’ sessions, in which give our staff a forum to talk about their lived experiences of race, gender, sexuality, mental health, disability, and more. 

Staff don’t expect it to be 100% right every time, but they do want to see real commitment, responsiveness and empathy.

Intentional DE&I reporting

When it comes to making meaningful progress, reporting on DE&I efforts is crucial – especially in this climate where DE&I is facing a backlash. Many employees (and stakeholders and clients) are increasingly sceptical about this data and how it makes a difference.

In 2024, organisational leaders will need to be more intentional about their DE&I reporting – not just focusing on the qualitative but the quantitative as well. It’s not enough to boast a 1% or 2% increase in diversity over 5 years... there needs to be tangible insights into what’s being done, the state of progress, reasons for stagnation, and most importantly, the strategy to improve. Apple’s Inclusion and Diversity microsite is a best-in-class example, allowing visitors unrestricted access to historical data which can be cut into gender and race, as well as into different segments of the business. There’s more work to be done – undoubtedly - but the accompanying case studies, initiatives and values add colour and integrity to the numbers.

No single solution will ‘solve’ DE&I — it requires confronting biases, embracing discomfort, and addressing challenges holistically. With care, courage and conviction, business leaders can renew momentum toward equity in 2024 despite the headwinds.

Get in touch with Missive to learn more about how to make a meaningful impact with your DE&I initiatives in 2024 and beyond. 

We are Missive

Contact us