5 ways to prioritize your DEI strategy when downsizing

With layoffs impacting many industries, these tips can help you maintain momentum in your diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives
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DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives have made broad gains in recent years as companies increasingly prioritize them. Now, widespread layoffs in the technology industry threaten to erode those gains.

For example, research shows that women and Latinx workers make up 47 percent and 11 percent of the total tech layoffs from September to December 2022. These segments comprise 39 percent and 10 percent of the entire industry, respectively.

With runaway inflation and rising costs impacting all industries, DEI is competing with many other business priorities, and it’s easy for companies to lose sight of the need for sustained DEI efforts. But it’s now more important than ever to double down on DEI work and make DEI a shared responsibility. Here’s how to do that.

1. Make sure that your DEI efforts don't rest solely with any one team or leader

DEI is not solely the responsibility of HR or your diversity manager; supporting it cannot be a stand-alone initiative. It requires the engagement and commitment of all leaders and managers who are being held accountable for actions and outcomes.

[ Related read: Diversity in IT: 3 key components to enable meaningful change. ]

2. Elevate and communicate DEI as a key business strategy

DEI is more than just a program to pursue during times of prosperity. It is an essential business strategy that improves culture, innovation, productivity, and business performance and needs to be sustained and prioritized continuously.

3. Focus on employee retention

Laying off workers can cause uncertainty and anxiety among all employees. Continue to engage your employees: motivate and reassure them, develop and grow them, and foster a strong sense of belonging and connection to the company and to their work. Building that workplace culture is a core component of DEI work.

4. Remember corporate compliance

If your company has contracts with the federal government, it must meet affirmative action and EEO obligations regardless of economic times. Even companies that aren't federal contractors have employment nondiscrimination obligations that must be sustained. Discontinuing DEI work altogether exposes your company to compliance-related enterprise risk.

5. Use this time to build your talent network and future pipeline

As layoffs in your industry increase, so does the opportunity for your competitors to tap highly qualified diverse talent. Even if your company is not hiring, focus on building connections and keep them interested in future opportunities.

Remember that your employees are always observing what you do. They will notice if you deprioritize your DEI efforts, which positions you eliminate, and how you manage the layoff process – did you treat employees with empathy and rally the team afterward?

Challenging times are defining moments. They test our character and resolve. They test our commitment to the things we value most. DEI should top that list.

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Roselle Rogers leads Circa’s diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy and thought leadership as well as the company’s OFCCP compliance and community partner relations.