Just 10 or 20 years ago, many in Corporate America may have been only vaguely familiar – if at all – with the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). These concepts were talked about but often looked at as a fringe concept made up of fluffy goals that paid lip service to the notion of DEI. The role of Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) was relatively rare even in the early years of the current century, and even then the credentials and background needed for such roles varied considerably company-to-company.
Today, things are much different, with all Fortune 100 companies now having made public commitments to DEI as of July, 2022 at the latest.
So, with this recent milestone in mind, to what can we attribute the explosion in DEI efforts over the past couple of decades? We suggest at least three key cultural and corporate shifts.
Growing Population Diversity
One reason for a great appreciation for diversity in the United States is surely due to the simple fact that America is becoming increasingly diverse. While diversity is a many-faceted concept, encompassing concepts like religion, race, gender identify, sexuality, age, and others, looking at the racial makeup of the American population since the beginning of the century illustrates one important shift in the country’s diversity: the White share of the population of the United States has fallen from 69 percent in 2000 to just over 60 percent in 2019; the decrease made up for primarily by increases in the proportion of Hispanic- and Asian-Americans. The numbers of Americans who identify as LGBTQ+ has also grown dramatically.
Changing Attitudes Towards DEI
As the nation has become more diverse, attitudes towards diversity and traditionally underrepresented groups have also shifted. People today are more likely to know someone of a different race or sexual orientation than they were just 20 years ago. Similarly, diverse faces and voices are much more prominent in media and popular culture today than at the turn of the century. This growing familiarity with diversity has helped people see the value in diverse viewpoints, cultures, and experiences.
The Business Case for DEI
Finally, it’s hard to imagine the surge in DEI appreciation in Corporate America without the strong business case for supporting DEI. Study after study have demonstrated that diverse and inclusive companies simply outperform their less-diverse, less-inclusive peers.
DEI is now a firmly established aspect of corporate life in America, so much so that it’s hard for more recent entrants into the workforce to comprehend the relative absence of DEI just a couple of decades ago. An increase in the diversity of the American population over that time, combined with and contributing to changing attitudes towards DEI and a growing appreciation for the business case for DEI help explain much of this shift.
It's a shift we’re excited to see—and to have been, we believe, a part of.