Protecting DEI Progress When Budgets Are Tight

Protecting DEI Progress When Budgets Are Tight

By Matt Dallisson, 23/06/2023

The layoffs and hiring freezes sweeping the tech industry and beyond have hurt diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) teams, putting carefully wrought efforts to build more inclusive workplaces at risk. Time will tell if the commitments companies made in 2020 and 2021 were inauthentic or a flash in the pan, a fear for many DEI practitioners and employees from marginalized groups.

In the meantime, an urgent question remains: What can organizations do today in the face of a strained macro environment and limited resources? The imperative for change isn’t going away simply because budgets have shrunk.

Recession-proofing DEI comes down to making DEI practices foundational to an organization’s workflow. The current scarcity presents an opportunity for organizations to make sure DEI is embedded into core business processes and practices. These three strategies can help.

1. Embed DEI into your annual-goal setting.

At Upwork, we’ve passed the baton of DEI accountability and empowerment from HR to departmental leaders. To operationalize this, we’ve created templates for an annual diversity, inclusion, and belonging plan that each vice president is required to submit as part of their annual goal-setting process. The templates, which are grounded in our corporate DEI goals, enable VPs to set department-specific metrics and a cadence of strategic reviews. Leaders are invited to share their observations, generate hypotheses on root causes and commit to no more than a handful of annual DEI actions.

2. Complement your DEI team with external partners to meet your evolving needs.

Effective DEI teams thrive on agility as they meet ever-changing business needs, priorities, and economics. For example, over the last three years, our needs at Upwork have evolved in the following ways:

We have a small but highly flexible hybrid DEI team (made up of 60% freelancers) to ensure we have the organizational capacity to meet these evolving needs. Our corporate positions are for evergreen workstreams where we will need long-term leadership and change management. Our contract roles are for time-bound strategic programs or evolutions, and we partner with external organizations to expedite time to delivery, protect team time and capacity and/or supplement our internal subject matter expertise.

3. Make DEI a core part of your corporate operating and communications agenda.

Like any innovative corporate strategy, your DEI efforts will face natural pivots, setbacks, and adjustments. Most employees can accept a shift in strategy as long as communication is frequent and transparent.

To avoid DEI becoming a nice-to-have rainy-day activity — especially during a time when worker wariness of companies’ commitments is heightened — make sure you’re continuously shining a light on your efforts. Develop a cadence of publicly reporting progress against your goals, and bake visibility into your existing company meetings and rituals.

For instance, at Upwork, along with my peers in HR, I report monthly to our executive leadership team on our topline DIB objectives and key results. Our senior director of DIB meets bimonthly with vice presidents to review progress against their annual DIBs plans. Our weekly all-company ConnectUp forum often includes timely DIB and culture updates for all team members, who play an active role in fostering a psychologically safe, fair and inclusive environment.

Consistent communication in these formal channels — along with more casual updates and nudges via Slack — legitimizes DEI as core to organizational health and reinforces mutual accountability for DEI outcomes.

You don’t need a seven-figure budget to enable team members to drive systemic change. In fact, I dream of a day when companies don’t need dedicated DEI teams. There’s extra value in having a specialized function with deep expertise, but real progress will be realized when DEI impact can happen without one. In the face of economic uncertainty and scarcity, there’s no time like now for organizations to test their readiness for a truly mature organization, where DEI is integral to how work is done.

This content was originally published here.