Angela Berg, partner and leader of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practice at Mercer, speaks to Global Finance about the need for more-proactive corporate leadership on human equity.
Global Finance: How are companies today prioritizing DEI?
Angela Berg: One area of rapid evolution that we’ve seen over the past 24 months, accelerating in the past six months, is around organizational and leader commitment. Most companies have focused on diversity for the business case—it’s good for innovation and productivity and helps us to be more competitive—but current events are really forcing companies and leaders to take more aggressive and dramatic actions.
GF: Are companies catching up or are they looking forward?
Berg: In our 2020 study, “When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive,” most of the approximately 1,200 companies globally that we surveyed, said DEI is a priority for them. But when you actually looked at what they were doing, fewer than 50% actually had a strategy. So there’s a lot of catching up to do; and when it comes to strategies, there’s never a one-size-fits-all answer.
GF: How do companies create a DEI strategy?
Berg: What make sense from our perspective is taking an evidence-based approach to understanding exactly where you are today, to identify and pinpoint where your needs are. We suggest a triangulation of three types of data, the first of which is to understand workforce data by analyzing it in a more useful way. A company may look at gender and race statistics, but not at the rate at which it hires diverse candidates, promotes diverse employees and retains them. Hiring more-diverse candidates does not equal a more-diverse company. The equation should have three parts: new hires, plus the people promoted, plus the people retained equals progress around DEI.
The second part is looking at the policies and processes that support DEI, such as those for promotions and succession planning, and evaluating their effectiveness. The third piece we suggest to companies is to listen to employees about their experiences through employee engagement surveys, conversations, focus groups and interviews. These three parts combined can help companies pinpoint their needs so they can prioritize the right strategy.
GF: Working from home is one of the biggest trends coming out of the Covid-19 crisis. What is the long-term impact?
Berg: Some organizations are trying to find the upside by continuing to let people work from home post-pandemic and recruiting people to do jobs regardless of their location. This opens up opportunities for companies located in smaller talent markets to tap into resources they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
At first glance, people are excited that they can work from home after the pandemic; but we’ve found from our research that companies generally do not value employees who work from home as much as they do those who come into the office. Employees who work from home would not be viewed as candidates for leadership roles or career development opportunities; promotion is viewed differently. When women continue to stay home and take advantage of that flexibility, they may not be as valued as those who are at their desk every day. The challenge for companies is to shift their mindset so that employees are treated equally regardless of whether they’re in the office.
GF: What do corporate leaders need to do to support DEI strategies in the future?
Berg: It’s time to challenge the most senior leaders to participate in a new way. We’ve heard a lot about the importance of empathy in organizations, but I think we need to move now to humility. It’s time for senior leaders, CEOs and board members to be humble and admit that, even if they had good intent to support DEI in their organization, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Really bold new actions are needed, and that takes leaders acknowledging that to actually progress and have change around DEI in the future requires new behaviors and mindsets. If a DEI strategy hasn’t achieved the desired results, then it’s time for new and different actions.