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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Isn’t as Important as it Once Was

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   January 18, 2023

Despite its benefits, DEI ranks sixth in HR priorities, falling one level in each of the past two years, a new report says.

A sense of urgency for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is on the decline, despite its demonstrated impact, according to Leading HR Into the Future of Work: McLean & Company's 2023 HR Trends Report.

DEI ranks sixth in HR priorities, falling one level in each of the past two years, according to the HR research firm.

DEI reached a high of fourth place in McLean & Company’s 2021 trends report—considerably up from eighth place the prior year—an apparent result of conversations and actions surrounding equity and social justice.

Lower rankings indicate that organizations “were failing to maintain momentum on their DEI work,” according to the new report which surveyed 1,075 business professionals.

“DEI is too important to let slip—other than being the right thing to do,” Grace Ewles, McLean’s manager of HR Research & Advisory Services, said in an online presentation about the report.

Despite indications that DEI is closely related to key organizational outcomes, only one-third of organizations have a formal DEI strategy, with that percentage remaining stagnant—37%—for the past three years, the report says. About 35% have an informal strategy, while 28 have no strategy.

Compared to organizations with no strategy, organizations with a DEI strategy are:

  • 1.4 times more likely to report high overall organizational performance
  • 1.8 times more likely to be high performing at social and environmental sustainability
  • 2.4 times more likely to be high performing at DEI

The top barrier to DEI progress is dedicated time for DEI work (59%), survey respondents said. Those with DEI initiatives focus primarily on efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as fostering a culture of  belonging, increasing diversity, and embedding inclusion into workplace practices and behaviors.

Others take a more expansive approach, with DEI advising on organizational culture, corporate social responsibility, and employee well-being, the report says, noting, “This breadth of scope may result in blurred functional boundaries and limited time and capacity for DEI teams to dedicate to DEI work.”

Other barriers are:

  • Resources and funding (43%)
  • Creating a unified strategy (38%)
  • Lack of data (34%)
  • Lack of leadership support (29%)

“It is time to move beyond foundational awareness and toward active ownership. Competency-based training offers an opportunity to help leaders actively demonstrate and reinforce DEI practices in their day-to-day work,” the report concluded about DEI.

“However, training is only one component of a broader DEI strategy—DEI must be embedded throughout organizational programs and policies to ensure uptake and accountability.”

The HR priorities that rank above DEI are:

  1. Recruiting
  2. Providing a great employee experience
  3. Developing leaders
  4. Controlling labor costs
  5. Enabling learning & development (L&D)

“DEI is too important to let slip—other than being the right thing to do.”

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


DEI ranks sixth in HR priorities, a new report says.

DEI ranked fourth two years ago, considerably up from eighth place the prior year.

The lower ranking indicates failure to maintain DEI momentum.

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