In the last year, companies have been forced to rethink their approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), creating more inclusive environments to meet the needs of their employees, customers, and investors.

Our society is still in the infancy of a true DEI movement in the workplace, but its importance is growing by the day. And for many companies, DEI may not only become a needed social initiative but also a requirement for employee recruitment and retention.

The Great Resignation has plagued the workforce in 2021, with 52 percent of workers planning to change their job, worsening existing labor shortages amid job openings surging above 10 million. DEI has become an important organizational attribute, but what are companies really doing to further DEI? And what do employees think about those efforts?

To uncover how employee perceptions of DEI compare to employer actions, Lever, a talent acquisition suite, recently released their State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts: Progress, Priorities, and Opportunities Report. The report surveyed over 1,000 employed adults and over 500 HR decision-makers in the U.S. to discover how DEI initiatives have progressed within organizations, and how employers and employees view these initiatives.

How Companies Are Addressing DEI Initiatives

While DEI initiatives span the entirety of the organization, one place many companies start when looking for more diverse talent is in hiring. According to Lever's report, companies have taken a variety of steps to achieve more diversity in hiring, including:

  • Making sure job postings are worded to eliminate bias (43 percent).
  • Posting jobs in non-traditional outlets (37 percent).
  • Replacing educational requirements with relevant skills or core competencies (36 percent).
  • Standardizing interview questions and rubrics.
  • Using data and insights to uncover and address potential biases in the process (31 percent).

When it comes to equity, nearly half (43 percent) of employers are ensuring job postings are worded to eliminate bias, and 32 percent have introduced a gender-neutral paid family leave policy. Employers are also formalizing inclusion measures such as creating or reviewing existing DEI policies and providing them to employees (47 percent), and by making or offering resources, or information for additional education or support, around DEI (41 percent).

Although employers are making strides with DEI, it's getting lost in translation when it comes to employee perception.

Lack of Communication by Employers Is Creating Misalignment

Nearly all (97 percent) employers report they have introduced new inclusion measures in the past year, but a quarter (24 percent) of employees believe their employer has not introduced any new measures.

This misalignment feeds into more specific DEI initiatives as well. In fact, in the last year, 52 percent of companies have introduced measures to ensure equal pay across titles or positions, but just 24 percent of employees report these actions at their organization.

Additionally, more than a quarter (27 percent) of companies introduced or expanded inclusive benefits and perks, but just 9 percent of employees reported this step was taken at their organization.

Lack of clear communication is a likely reason for these discrepancies, as more than half (51 percent) of employers report sharing DEI updates through company-wide channels, but just 24 percent of employees report this happening at their organization.

"Organizations are making strides toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace environments, but without employee knowledge and understanding of these efforts, leaders will not be successful in creating meaningful change," said Annie Lin, VP of people at Lever. "It's important for leaders to ensure they are both implementing strategies that will move DEI efforts in the right direction, and creating a streamlined process to measure the progress while ensuring employees are aware of these efforts. This is crucial for effecting real, sustainable change within your existing organization. And it is crucial for future efforts, as well, as employees are often your best advocates for attracting new talent and customers. Being thoughtful about internal communication, including realizing the power of repetition, is key to this happening." 

Considering Employees' Needs In Creating Successful DEI Initiatives

When looking ahead to the upcoming year, employees (34 percent) are most concerned about improving communication around ongoing and future DEI plans, while employers are most concerned about internal alignment and what DEI means for the organization (52 percent), as well as adopting more diverse hiring tactics (50 percent). Again, this exemplifies a misalignment between employers and employees.

Additionally, just 39 percent of employers plan to measure the success of ongoing DEI initiatives, an important part of successful DEI initiatives. Without tracking progress, there's no way to identify what's working and what employers need to change.

Furthermore, while over half (57 percent) of employers are highly confident that they will achieve their DEI goals, 29 percent of employees say their companies are making progress, but there's still a long way to go.

Leaders know there are improvements to be made. More than half say they need to better communicate DEI goals and progress to their employees (58 percent), recognizing a crucial step for improving DEI. As leaders continue to assess DEI within their organization it's clear it's not just the effort that's important: Communication and alignment are crucial for success.