In recent months, we’ve seen a lot of waffling and backtracking from companies when it comes to their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Businesses are slashing their budgets or cutting entire positions related to DEI work. And those engaged in this type of work are sometimes ousted, or have left due to a problematic (or even hostile) workplace environment. According to an article by Quartz.com, “Since 2018, the average tenure of DEI roles in the S&P 500 has been less than two years.”
Is it any wonder people are fleeing these roles when budgets are tight and the fate of DEI programs is uncertain? Although corporations pledged billions of dollars to diversity and inclusion efforts after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, those pledges were not always made in earnest, and now companies are backpedaling on their promises (sometimes blaming the uncertain economy, sometimes claiming these programs are ineffective).
If you work in a DEI-centered role, what can you do if your budget is cut? What actions can you take when your workplace begins to de-prioritize the work that you do? Though this is a troubling and extremely difficult position to be in, but you can take a few proactive steps, such as the following 4 actions:
Prioritize High-Impact Activities
If you look at your DEI wish list, which items are absolutely essential, and which items are “nice to have”? While we would all love to plan a DEI-centered company retreat, for instance, this may not be realistic when you’re working with a limited budget. Instead, focus on activities that are relatively low-cost and high-impact.
Maybe your company’s hiring practices are sorely outdated and non-inclusive. Perhaps microaggressions or harassment are consistently a problem, which could be addressed through widespread education and awareness (lunch and learns, trainings, an email campaign, working with an outside DEI consultant, etc.). Think about DEI practically and consider the ROI (return on investment). Certain budget-friendly actions can still make an impact.
Communicate the Urgency and Importance
Most leaders are constantly concerned with the company’s bottom line. They want to know if DEI initiatives will be “worth it” in the long run. Even though the benefits of these programs may seem obvious to you, it’s essential to frame this information in practical terms and present it to company leaders.
For example, how do inclusive hiring practices attract top talent? What does the data say about that? Or, how can a more inclusive workplace culture lead to increased employee engagement and retention? Use data and research to support your arguments and communicate the urgency and importance of maintaining a strong DEI focus.
Build Coalitions and Allies
When facing budget cuts or a de-prioritization of DEI work, it's important to build alliances within your organization. Identify key stakeholders who are supportive of DEI initiatives and form coalitions with them. This can include individuals from HR, leadership, employee resource groups, or other departments that align with your goals. By working together and leveraging their influence, you can collectively advocate for the importance of DEI and make a stronger case for maintaining funding and support.
Bring in Outside Help
If you do not have the budget to hire additional employees for DEI roles, consider looking to outside organizations and people for help. This could entail hiring a DEI consultant to assess your organization and assist in planning potential action steps. Or, it could mean hiring someone to conduct additional trainings or facilitate workshops on DEI topics.
Bringing in outside help can also provide fresh perspectives and ideas for your organization. Sometimes, internal biases and blind spots can hinder progress in DEI initiatives. By working with external partners, you can gain new perspectives and approaches to address problems and drive change.
Navigating the challenges of budget cuts and de-prioritization in DEI work can be difficult, but there are proactive steps you can take to make a difference. Think creativity and strategically, and be sure to convey the urgency of your work to the organization. Keep in mind, you do not have to do this alone. External organizations or individuals can support the amazing work you’re doing, while adding an outsider’s perspective. Even with limited resources, you can still make a significant impact and drive positive change.