Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Trends: 2023 – by Soumaya Khalifa

Whether you traveled or stayed home this past holiday season, you paid attention to the news about Southwest Airlines’ struggles to get  people where they wanted to go.  Bad (really bad) weather, canceled flights, long lines, lost luggage, and exhausted and cranky passengers and airline staff all led to an operational disaster that will take Southwest a while to overcome.  

In a statement on its website, Southwest called its own performance “unacceptable.”  Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said Southwest had not put adequate systems in place to manage operations during the storm. “The fact is: We weren’t prepared,” Murray said.

But some observers weren’t at all surprised: Southwest’s crisis was inevitable after years of prioritizing stock dividends and executive compensation over necessary investments, including improving its outdated IT and crew scheduling systems. Southwest’s own employees issued plenty of warnings about those.

We have to wonder what Southwest – or any other public-facing corporation – could do to handle the next crisis situation, or prevent it,  without straining their personnel beyond any reasonable limit.

As corporate leaders, we must take a people-first response:  build an integrated corporate culture  tied to necessity for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B). We must recognize that we are now leading a diverse employee base who want to feel heard and know they belong. They want equity—not only inclusion—and they want action, not words with no meaning behind them. 

A recent Forbes article on DEI&B Insights reports that DEI&B has become an increasing priority and strategic advantage across all business sectors, not just to recruit or retain talent, but to enable people to contribute at their highest levels.  Research has shown time and again that more diverse and inclusive teams have a direct impact on higher company performance and profit. This signals a very strong need to incorporate DEI&B into the DNA of our organizations.

In 2023, we will see these three DEI&B trends inform organizations’ operational priorities, objectives and goals:

1. Retention: People-First Culture and Care for the Overall Well-Being of Employees

There is a well-reported increase of both workplace and personal stress.  This can lead to decreased productivity and increased staff turnover.  To build employee loyalty and longevity, it is up to senior leadership to address and protect their overall well-being.  Unhappy employees and those who feel uncared for will actively seek opportunities to join other organizations that are seen to prioritize their staff’s well-being.  Employers who promote a People-First Culture retain talented employees by listening and responding appropriately to concerns and use their resources wisely. 

2. Find the Best Hybrid: Balancing Remote and In-Office Work Policies

During the pandemic, many workers and organizations pivoted to working remotely.  Early successes in remote working were both surprising and inspiring.  As Suresh Kumar, Walmart’s CTO said, “As we’ve moved to virtual work, we haven’t just coped, we’ve actually thrived. We are more focused on the things that have the greatest impact for our customers, associates and the business. We are making quicker decisions. Meetings are now more inclusive of people regardless of location, level or other differences. We have great momentum and need to figure out how to carry it forward.” 

Even as the pandemic has become less intense and we are accustomed to safety measures, many people continue to enjoy the comforts and successes of working at home. Recognizing the importance of in-person collaboration and accountability, corporations are beginning to require at least some in-office time.  In what will be an ongoing conversation across all levels of a company, employers and employees will need to find the right balance – the best hybrid – for a strong corporate culture and productivity.

3. Insist on Consistent, Congruent DEI&B Policies to Improve Workplace Culture

Diversity is the demographic makeup of your company and the end goal of all DEI&B efforts. Equity is the leveling of an uneven playing field. Inclusion is a welcoming environment for candidates and employees of all stripes. And belonging is a feeling of comfort at an inclusive workplace. As a whole, DEI&B is intended to provide opportunities and remove bias in the workplace while increasing the creativity and innovation and retention for the organizations. 

Companies can struggle to move beyond being mostly reactive to being proactive due to the lack of clear implementable policy. Having only a  process that responds to DEI&B complaints without a supporting policy is not sustainable. On the flip side, there can be so much policy that it creates barriers to achieving DEI&B goals. Often, policies can contradict one another, leaving it up to an individual manager to determine which one to follow.  Make sure that the policies in place are designed to support your DEI&B objectives and that they are consistent and enforceable.

With corporate culture evolving in response to the pandemic, new technologies and heightened awareness in 2023, there is a significant need to incorporate DEI&B into our operations.  All organizations, their leaders and employees, have the responsibility to build an inclusive work culture so that they can grow and thrive.  A clearer focus on our employees’ well-being, diversity, and professional development and an openness to their needs and concerns will translate to a positive impact to our bottom line and help avoid a repetition of Southwest’s disastrous performance during our recent holiday season.

Soumaya Khalifa

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *