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Organizational Change
New WeSpire Research Finds Significant Drop in Corporate DEI Programs in 2020

The 10th annual study reveals that HR departments apparently underestimated employee concerns about racial equity and social unrest. Was the pandemic, or lack of company buy-in, to blame?

Today, WeSpire, the award-winning employee-engagement platform specializing in purpose-driven initiatives, released its 2021 State of Employee Engagement report. Now in its tenth year, the research represents a unique opportunity to assess the widespread impact on employees of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift for many to fully remote work; as well as rising racial justice and equity concerns, political divisions and social unrest on US companies and their workforces.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Purpose is still paramount: Employees who feel their company is strongly making a positive impact in this world are 50 percent less likely to be open to leaving their job

  • Employees are significantly more concerned about social isolation and social unrest than HR team members seem to believe

  • Despite rising corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) commitments, the number of employees indicating that their company offers DEI programs fell 35 percent versus 2019

“This trend research is always fascinating, but particularly this year — given the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic presents,” said WeSpire founder and CEO Susan Hunt Stevens. “The data prove once again that being a purpose-driven business is critically important for resilience and successful workforce outcomes.”

This year, the data surprisingly show that — despite the groundswell of corporate support of Black Lives Matter in 2020, and the need for companies to thoroughly embed and walk their talk around anti-racist policies — the percentage of companies that provide DEI programs has fallen. 2019 saw the biggest increase in any program — from 29 percent to 37 percent — indicating that employers recognized the need to do more to ensure a culture of inclusivity. But 2020 saw an alarming drop — according to WeSpire’s research, only 24 percent of employees now report that their company has formal DEI programs in place. The research also shows a significant gap between employees' interest in having access to various engagement programs and the availability of those programs.

“The biggest, and most disheartening, surprise is that fewer employees now have access to DEI programs,” Stevens added. “Our hypothesis is that many of these programs were relatively new, often volunteer-led, and just haven’t effectively survived the transition to remote work. We hope this serves as a wake-up call to leaders that effective, universally accessible programs are required to turn commitments into culture change.”

In the report, WeSpire cites research from RedThread, which points to the business imperative to address and rethink their DEI practices that arose in 2020. RedThread expects to see technology drive greater ownership for DEI strategies over the next several years.

“As orgs feel the pressure to take a stand, and act against systemic racism and gender discrimination, they’ll no longer be satisfied with technologies that only go so far as providing data,” said Stacia Garr, co-founder & Principal Analyst at RedThread. “Tech must be able to: 1) make recommendations, and highlight and prioritize specific actions for leaders; 2) connect these actions to business outcomes; and 3) Offer scenarios for how it may impact the org if those actions aren’t implemented.”

WeSpire believes that — as greater tools are available to support DEI efforts, and as companies begin to more thoughtfully approach integrating racial justice and equity into the workplace — we will see a rebound in the number of quality programs in the future.

WeSpire surveyed 1,843 US adults across four generations, giving these results a confidence interval of 95 percent. 40 percent of respondents work for companies with more than 1,000 employees.