Workday DEI Landscape Report: Business Leaders Remain Committed in 2024

Our global survey of 2,600 executives indicates that diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts remain a priority, with many increasing budgets and better utilizing AI and other technologies to achieve DEI goals.

young diverse group of business people working in modern office

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been in the spotlight since 2020 as a business priority, but recent headlines could lead many to believe it’s the beginning of the end for DEI, with reports of budget and headcount reductions at a number of notable organizations.

While DEI faced challenges in 2023, a recent Workday survey of 2,600 global business leaders—including CEOs and leaders from HR, finance, IT, and sales—reveals that 78% say the importance of DEI increased in the past 12 months, with 85% stating they have budget for DEI initiatives—an increase of 11% compared to last year’s survey.

For the majority of organizations, this commitment to DEI is intrinsically motivated, with 66% of respondents saying that the main source of pressure for implementing DEI initiatives is internal, of which 42% say business leaders and employees are equally driving DEI initiatives.

Some of the top reasons for supporting DEI in this year’s survey include:

  • Positively impacting business success and results (39%)
  • Improved employee engagement (40%) and staff well-being (41%)
  • Attracting and recruiting a diverse workforce (43%)

All of this bodes well for DEI efforts in 2024. But in order for organizations to develop a more mature approach, they’ll need to focus on a number of key areas, including how to collect more nuanced DEI data, the impact of AI and machine learning (ML), and moving to a more strategic approach.

Shared Ownership and Leadership Commitment Drives DEI

In this year’s survey, half of HR and business leaders say DEI is owned across the organization, while 42% say it’s the sole responsibility of one specific group or function. Only 8% of respondents report that no one owns DEI.

Shared ownership appears to have a strong correlation with a more strategic approach to DEI. Of those who agree a strategic approach is a priority, 70% say DEI is owned across the organization, compared to 54% for those who don’t have a strategic approach.

AI and ML investment is most common in DEI applications related to performance development, hiring, and sentiment surveys.

While shared ownership allows for a more strategic approach, respondents also cite leadership and commitment from the top as the main requirement for progressing DEI efforts further. Diverse leadership in particular is considered vital to successfully implementing DEI initiatives in the future, with 83% of respondents agreeing. This is an area where work still needs to be done, especially as 52% believe the current leadership makeup of their organization has a negative impact on DEI.

The commitment to DEI is reinforced by leaders walking the talk, moving from awareness to action, modeling inclusive behaviors, and holding themselves and others accountable for consistently doing the same.

AI and ML Technologies Are Having an Impact

Technology plays a critical role in enabling DEI, from measuring demographic data and empowering employee development and skills strategies, to enabling communication and collaboration. Adopting a more strategic approach to DEI depends heavily on an organization’s ability to implement and support the appropriate technology stack.

The research also shows a strong correlation between strategic maturity, technology adoption, and a robust DEI program. Of the respondents in this year’s survey who say a strategic approach is a priority, almost half (46%) have deployed technology for nine different DEI use cases. This group is also much more likely to be using AI and other technologies with bias mitigation capabilities.

AI and ML investment is most common in DEI applications related to performance development, hiring, and sentiment surveys. When asked about the impact of these investments, the majority of business leaders cite a “positive” or “significant positive impact,” with over 80% seeing positive results.

The areas that have seen the biggest positive impact are performance development and sentiment surveys, with 86% and 83% of respondents, respectively, reporting that AI and other technologies have improved results across the board—highlighting the positive role AI and ML can play in DEI success.

At the same time, it’s critical to implement AI in a responsible way. A recent Workday survey about the role of AI in the enterprise found that 93% of business leaders believe humans should be involved in AI decision-making. In addition to keeping humans in the loop, data used to train systems should be diverse, representative, and free of bias. AI is only as equitable as the data it’s trained on. 

More Organizations Are Measuring Business Outcomes

Against the backdrop of negative perceptions and questions regarding efficacy and outcomes, measurement is critical. Having clear goals and a way to measure them not only enables you to showcase success, but also enables leaders to identify gaps and opportunities, allocate resources, determine areas for investment, and prioritize work.

One of the main challenges that has faced DEI efforts in recent years is the perceived inability to measure ROI, as highlighted by the fact that only 20% of respondents in last year’s survey say their organization measures the business impact of DEI.

This year, 67% of respondents say their organization measures the business impacts of DEI, which includes employee engagement, employee diversity, and performance.  

Interestingly, while almost half (49%) of respondents say they were tracking diversity metrics, only 39% report they have the ability to measure progress on employee inclusion and belonging. This represents a huge opportunity for organizations to develop a more nuanced understanding of how DEI impacts different aspects of the employee experience, and ultimately, business outcomes. For example, sentiment analysis can provide a measure of employee belonging, which in turn impacts business outcomes such as employee engagement, turnover, and retention.

For many organizations, closing this gap between representation and belonging requires finding the right technology, with 64% of respondents agreeing that recording DEI data is a challenge and they need new systems and software to manage it.

Our customers assess the employee experience through our intelligent listening platform Workday Peakon Employee Voice, so employees know they’re being heard, thereby allowing leaders to keep a pulse on employee sentiment, identify trends, and determine appropriate actions.

Driving Continued DEI Success in 2024

Recognizing and embracing diversity in all its manifestations is key to a successful business. From diverse perspectives and lived experiences to divergent thinking and ideation, our ability to celebrate and leverage our diversity is essential.

At Workday, we believe in focusing on what unites us versus what divides us. Encouraging employees to navigate differences with a VIBE™ mindset of curiosity, compassion, and courage helps organizations operate respectfully and coexist safely, so we can all do our best work.

Download the full report for the latest insights on how organizations are supporting DEI and the challenges they face, and what they’re doing to embrace a more strategic approach.

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