In our current social and political climate, the need for successful and sustained Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives has never been more pressing. The growing acknowledgement of historically marginalized groups and efforts to elevate their voices in all realms of American life are notable and positive trends.  

Yet while DEI initiatives have expanded rapidly across corporate America in recent years, HR and senior leaders are increasingly challenged by employee dissatisfaction, frustration and even pushback on DEI efforts despite the evidence of their value.  

The DEI Backlash

Data published in a 2022 Gartner report speak directly to the hurdles faced by leaders who understand the business (and human) value of DEI, but face an uphill battle on the ground:

  • 31.4% of employees report DEI has received more attention within their organizations in the last two years 
  • 44% agree a growing number of their colleagues feel alienated by their organization’s DEI efforts 
  • 42% say their peers resent DEI efforts

The “Whole Person” Approach

As disheartening as these statistics are, they highlight a significant need and opportunity for DEI investments that can foster greater empathy and sense of belonging across a workplace–in contrast to investments that unintentionally draw more lines and barriers.  

As Lily Zheng, author of DEI Deconstructed, stated in a recent Forbes article, “Instead of a zero-sum game, we all need to engage in DEI for collective learning, for collective growth.”

Leading thinkers on DEI issues in the workplace such as Gabrielle Novacek, Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group, are challenging DEI efforts to move away from simple demographic box checking and take what we at WorkLife call the  “whole person” approach.

As Novacek stated in one recent interview

“To date, most DEI work has tended to emphasize a specific set of diversity categories, such as women, people of color, those who identify as LGBTQ, and so forth….but we also need to recognize that other factors may be just as important, or even more so, in defining an individual’s experience at work….A Black employee may also identify as LGBTQ and be a caregiver for an elderly parent. A white male employee might have a physical disability and work-visa issues.”   

When this “whole person” approach is embedded into DEI efforts, the effort builds broader bonds, serves more employees, and fosters a culture of empathy within a workplace.  As several DEI experts recently emphasized at SHRM’s 2022 INCLUSION conference, “empathy is a critical characteristic of belonging, which helps create and sustain a thriving culture but often gets lost in the DE&I shuffle.” 

To make greater gains in the coming years, DEI initiatives will need to refocus on empathy, belonging, and the complex lived experience each human brings to work.

Start with Support

At WorkLife Partnership, we believe that offering personalized, unhurried support to workers facing complex life and work challenges is a powerful DEI tool. When employers invest in Resource and Health Navigator services for their employees, they have acted on a DEI 2.0 thinking, recognizing that the “whole person” matters. 

Our Resource and Health Benefits Navigators take the time to build trust with each employee and gain a full understanding of their unique life circumstances including physical, social, financial, mental and professional challenges and dreams. Their investment says to employees, “we appreciate your uniqueness and complexity, we support you, you belong here.”  There is no stronger DEI statement than this.