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Breaking through backlash: D&I accountability

Photo of Jacob Guberg

Jacob Guberg 01 October 2021

2 broken windows

‘Ineffective woke nonsense’. ‘Just the latest bandwagon’. ‘Pointless’. 


Surprisingly – these reactions to diversity and inclusion initiatives aren’t pulled from a tabloid news comment section or talk radio phone-in, but from a recent survey we ran, aimed at people professionals across a breadth of industries. These private views are beginning to become more public too – with organisations turning their backs on some traditional parts of workplace inclusion or indeed abdicating responsibility on the matter entirely. The reasons for this shift vary from the strategic to the societal – and are far too knotty to get into here. 


But the reasons for this backlash sit firmly in the shadow of their very real impact. Earlier this year only 3% of Black employees reported wanting to return to the office full-time, as compared to 21% of White workers. Beyond engagement in work, there is also the reputational risk of not living up to lofty promises made in the heat of last summer, and ultimately the moral imperative to do the right thing by your employees. Organisations simply cannot allow their diversity and inclusion efforts to stall, to infighting and backbiting. And while we should never bow to pressure from trolls, perhaps this is a wake-up call. If D&I initiatives are to be judged, we should sidestep the reactionary critics and detractors, and hold them accountable on our own terms. 


Accountability for initiatives can be a challenge for organisations of any size. If you’re a small to medium enterprise, your people may already have a lot on their plate. If you’re part of a larger organisation there may be many different stakeholders for a single project. This is especially true for D&I – our aforementioned survey shows that while 28% of respondents state ultimate responsibility often sits with HR, for others it sits across senior leadership, D&I leads, and employee resource groups. This absence of clarity around ownership can lead to a lack of direction and purpose, and ultimately, low or no demonstrable impact. 


“Not everything that is faced can be changed – but nothing can be changed until it is faced”. James Baldwin’s words are often quoted in the arena of D&I – but in this instance, they are particularly relevant. Accountability is impossible without an understanding of both the current situation and the desired changes we wish to see. This is where effective D&I reporting can add a huge amount of value. Whether shared via your annual report, sustainability report, or a standalone document – a transparent and well-structured picture of your organisation’s D&I landscape gives you an anchor point to build accountability from – while also providing a tool to engage stakeholders in the process, inside and out. 


None the less D&I reporting can be a challenging process to get right. Even fundamental questions like the very purpose of reporting can be overlooked. In fact only 49% of those we surveyed listed accountability as a reason to report. The good news is that help is at hand.  


We’ll be sharing all the data referenced in this piece along with further insights and practical recommendations in an upcoming report 'Driving D&I: diversity reporting with a purpose'. 


Please register your interest to receive further news on its development, and invite to its launch webinar, here.