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Is DE&I Facing Realignment?

Is DE&I Facing Realignment?

July 25, 2023
ASSP President Jim Thornton talks about how DE&I should be a core value as it advances the well-being of all workers.

An unwavering characteristic of corporate strategy is to create initiatives to solve challenges. Often these initiatives slide seamlessly into the core culture finding a permanent home. But just as often these initiatives fade away after a couple of years. Reasons for these disappearing directives vary; the issue has been solved, budgets are cut due to economic conditions and often they just don’t stick.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), which began as an initiative, is facing a critical juncture. At many companies, it has moved so firmly into the company’s operations that it is considered a competitive advantage. Many companies have proclaimed, and there are studies to back them up, that having a diverse population has made them more profitable. A diverse workforce taps into different belief systems offering more input into problem-solving. Having a workforce that reflects the diversity of customers is advantageous on many levels. And employees, especially younger ones, find value in working for a company that embraces diversity.

These advantages have been recognized for a while and most companies have DE&I officers. However, these jobs and the concept of DE&I has come under scrutiny due to social unrest and politics. 

A recent survey from Revelio Labs found that attrition rates for DE&I roles have outpaced those of other roles since late 2020. This is reflected in the loss of DE&I professionals at high-profile companies such as Amazon, Twitter, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, Honeywell, Walmart and Capital One. And overall organizations are cutting back on DE&I teams, as 20% of the respondents to the survey reported, with 12% believing that more cuts could occur depending on economic conditions.

EHS Today asked ASSP President Jim Thornton for his take on this issue.

EHS: Let’s start with where your organization is on your own DE&I initiative. 

JT: Our 14-member DEI Task Force served for one year and greatly helped put diversity, equity and inclusion front and center at an organization that aimed to strengthen itself while advancing worker safety and health in all industries. Meaningful change has been achieved, including ASSP hosting a virtual DEI Summit this past January that involved several hundred workplace safety and health professionals.

Also, we now have a standard operating guideline focused on DEI; consistent learning opportunities offered at education events; Society-level election modifications geared toward inclusion; and a Code of Professional Conduct currently being revised.

A DEI Audit Tool is available on our website to assist organizations in analyzing their methods to achieve greater success. DEI is now an embedded component in ASSP’s ongoing journey to create and maintain welcoming and transparent environments.

EHS: In this past year, there has been some backlash at companies either for supporting certain stands, such as Pride month or for not making meaningful progress in DEI issues. What advice do you give to your members on how to deal with this?

JT: DEI should be an organizational core value because it advances the well-being of all workers while helping to ensure that people’s differences are not only accepted but celebrated. Everyone deserves a workplace culture that embraces opportunities to learn and grow so all workers can excel. DEI is at the heart of that objective.

Generally speaking, if workers feel safe and appreciated, they will be happier and more productive, and business will flourish.

Leaders should aim to create environments in which workers can comfortably be themselves without biases and repercussions. DEI supports growth and success in today’s competitive marketplace.

EHS: Do you feel this issue will fade over time or is it here to stay? If here to stay, as many in the younger generation cite this as an important program for companies to have, how would you advise your members to make sure these programs are sustainable?

JT: DEI is a core value and cultural commitment that should become the norm at every organization. While that’s not yet the case today, this critical movement is growing. If you truly value your employees, it’s essential to give them an environment in which they can thrive. Everyone deserves fair and equitable treatment, and making it a core organizational value is the best way to achieve that.

DEI is not only an ASSP operating commitment, but we also aim to empower our members to help their organizations achieve greater results.

DEI truly impacts overall worker well-being, making it a significant and worthwhile endeavor for business management teams. Whether it’s providing proper personal protective equipment that fits a diverse group of human bodies or enhancing training programs to share vital instructions in native languages, companies can elevate safety and thrive with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

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About the Author

Adrienne Selko | Senior Editor

Email [email protected]


Adrienne Selko is also the senior editor at Material Handling and Logistics and is a former editor of IndustryWeek. 




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