Article 3

2023-07-09 Zenia Simonella

Companies and Inclusion: You Can Call It "Illusion"

According to the data from The Future of Jobs Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum, most of the companies surveyed have implemented diversity, equity, and inclusion policies. While from one standpoint, data like these are reassuring, on the other hand, they do not reveal anything about the effectiveness of the measures taken, nor about the climate and employees' experiences in the workplace

One of the latest surveys published by the World Economic Forum - The Future of Jobs Report 2023[1] - presents an interesting and seemingly reassuring finding. A significant portion of the companies surveyed declare that they have implemented Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies.

Digging deeper, we read that these policies primarily involve training programs on the subject, accessibility of spaces, and the introduction of targets or quotas for specific categories. Moreover, recent studies[2] suggest that these targets themselves generate benefits for the DEI strategy, that essentially translate into increased attention to issues such as female leadership and family support. These actions, however, only address certain aspects of the broader spectrum of DEI; and in some cases, they have become "trendy" measures (such as gender targets), often easy to identify and demonstrate accountability to stakeholders on the subject, as well as targeted towards specific groups.
Indeed, another finding from the report is that the greatest beneficiaries of these policies are women, followed by Generation Z, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, workers over 50, the LGBTQ+ community, and finally, individuals with low income. Despite the growing aging population and the increasing wealth gap, senior workers and socio-economically vulnerable individuals often remain at the bottom of the list.
While it is important to identify policies and practices to understand how the adoption rate among companies is changing, these data do not reveal anything about the effectiveness of these measures. Furthermore, it is not guaranteed that companies collect such information.

The risk is that not only that adoption can become rhetorical, mechanical, and bureaucratized (with the sole aim of increasing the percentage of women in top positions or the number of training hours on the subject), but also that counterproductive effects may are generated.[3] For example, in the case of gender targets or widespread training on DEI topics (which may be decontextualized and based solely on Anglo-centric literature), so-called "gender fatigue" may emerge, which occurs when people become tired of hearing about the topic, eventually no longer recognizing it as relevant and minimizing its importance. [4] This is an aspect to consider when implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion policies or launching projects on the subject.
As has been emphasized for some time now, [5] when companies "appropriate" the subject of DEI, they risk neutralizing it, generating only an apparent change, perhaps in vocabulary or form, but not in substance. For this reason, it is always important not only to design a comprehensive strategy on the subject but also to have a pulse on the atmosphere within the company: how do people really feel within the organization? Are they happy to come to work? Do they feel discriminated against? Who are those who feel discriminated against? Why? How is merit defined? What are the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in my organization? Can I solve them by also involving those who feel discriminated against?

Ultimately, the risk is that the illusion of being an inclusive company can be created simply because certain measures are adopted or awards are received. However, this is not a guarantee that the work environment is genuinely open and respectful of the diverse identities of employees.



[2] See: Latura A., A. Catalano Weeks (2019) Corporate Board Quotas and Gender Equality Policies in the Workplace. American Journal of Political Science. On line.

[3] S. Williamson, "Backlash, Gender Fatigue and Organisational Change. AIRAANZ 2019, Presidential Address," Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work, 30(1), 2020, pp. 5-15.

[4] We already discussed this in the dossier dedicated to diversity and inclusion in Economia & Management, 2021/4.

[5] K.M. Thomas, V.C. Plaut, "The Many Faces of Diversity Resistance in The Workplace," in K.M. Thomas (edited by), Diversity Resistance in Organizations, Milton Park, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008, pp. 1-22.


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