Listening to Every Employee Voice: Honoring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Findings from our Employee Expectations Report 2021 show that the proportion of employee comments on the topic of DE&I has increased substantially. This signals that employees increasingly expect their employers to take a clear stance on DE&I, communicate new initiatives, and listen to every voice at every level.

The past 12 months have seen the landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) shift dramatically.

In the midst of a global pandemic, acts of violence against members of the Black community led to one of the most unified global stands against racial injustice in history. Despite the pressures of country-wide lockdowns, people still came forward and had their say. In turn, this movement served as a turning point for businesses to reassess their approach to DE&I, and do more to support their people. 

Our Employee Expectations Report 2021 showed that the proportion of employee comments on the topic of DE&I increased by more than a third in 2020. This jump in comments signals that employees increasingly expect their employers to take a clear stance on DE&I, communicate new initiatives, and listen to every voice at every level. 

This new report, based on an analysis of 30 million employee comments from across 160 countries, reveals just how much the conversation around DE&I has accelerated since 2019.

In the first deep-dive into the insights unearthed by our Employee Expectations Report 2021, we discussed the importance of flexible working when supporting caregivers. Now, we’re reflecting on what employees worldwide have been saying about DE&I in the workplace, and what they expect from their employers moving forward.

“We must do more, and we must do it better. Awareness of privilege must be at the core of our understanding and process and policy creation.”

Rick Kershaw Senior HR Director Workday

Employees Want to Feel Heard on Social Issues

With the advent of the internet and social media, it’s become easier than ever to communicate quickly and effectively with people across the world. What those mediums and platforms often miss, however, is the opportunity for equitable discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion. To create an environment where employees can bring their best selves to work, employers need to create a space where everyone can be heard. 

In 2019, the number of survey comments related to DE&I increased by 19%. In 2020, they increased by a further 38% — exactly double. Not only do these figures emphasize the importance of creating spaces where employees feel safe sharing their thoughts on DE&I, they also show that employees are talking more and more about DE&I topics.

But behind that increase is tragedy and anger. When looking at the proportion of employee comments relating to the term ‘racial inequality’, the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 had a significant impact, leading to the globalisation of social justice movements. It was only one week after Floyd’s death that we saw the first instance of “Black Lives Matter” appear in an employee comment. 

There are two main conclusions to draw from this. The first is that people of color and allies alike are increasingly participating in conversations about racism and violence faced by underrepresented minority groups. The second is that these conversations aren’t just happening in your employees’ private lives anymore. They’re happening in the workplace. 

Seeing such a strong rise in employee comments on this topic shows that employees want to be an active part of that conversation, even at work. How you respond as a business is important — and will increasingly become a decisive factor in employee engagement and loyalty, as well as prospective candidates’ decisions to join your company. 

Intersectionality Is the Key to Success 

When considering how to develop your DE&I policies, it’s critical to step back and consider the bigger picture. Being responsive is essential, but being reactive is a mistake. That’s why the best approach is an intersectional one. 

Intersectionality in the workplace refers to the fact that the different aspects of a person — such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion — are interconnected, and how those aspects overlap in each individual uniquely shapes the privileges and disadvantages they face. In 2021, employees want their employers to empathise with the entire breadth of their day-to-day experiences. 

While the Black Lives Matter movement brought particular focus to racial inequality, gender inequality remained a consistent concern for employees in 2020. The topic of ‘race’ featured in 25% of last year’s DE&I comments, while ‘gender’ was mentioned in 18%. 

When considering the needs of your employees, consider their entire selves, and invest in a strategy that tackles inequality in its many different forms simultaneously. The key to this is using data to understand where intersectionality exists, regularly listening to the unique needs of all your employees, and being specific about who a new policy or strategy is designed to support. 

Your Input on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matters

Against the global scale of racial injustice and gender inequality, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But asking, “What can I do?” is an important first step. Your employees often want your sincere engagement on topics of DE&I, as much as they want to see their concerns lead to sustained change.

Words such as ‘Leadership’ and ‘Management’ featured in 43% of DE&I comments last year — a sign that some employees are seeking more support from their leaders on this issue. You can’t have a clearer sign to act than your employees actively asking for support from higher up the command chain.

As mentioned previously, it’s essential that the actions you take aren’t solely reactive, but take into account long-term change. When looking at employee engagement scores on the Workday Peakon Employee Voice platform, we can see that the global average peaked in June and July, concurrently with the height of last year’s social justice protests, before plateauing. 

What’s promising, however, is that from January to December DE&I scores still showed an upward trend. Overall, companies took note of the changing expectations of their employees, and played a greater role in the global conversation than in previous years. Rather than focusing on outward public perception — a common issue with DE&I — businesses paid more attention to meeting the needs of their own people. 

What now? Well, it’s critical that businesses embed accountability. By tying business goals to DE&I goals, you ensure that sustainable progress can take hold within your company, and that everyone is aligned on what a desirable shared outcome is. By stepping up and speaking out, we can all play a part in driving positive and sustainable systemic change.

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