Black People Only Comprise 4% Of DEI Positions In The Workplace

Following the 2020 death of George Floyd, companies across various industries made announcement after announcement that they would invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives, often using the position of chief diversity officer to direct these efforts. A report from career site Zippia details that of these positions, only 4% of the roles were occupied by Black people in 2023.

According to Reyhan Ayas, a senior economist at Revelio Labs, this suggests that the pledges many companies issued post-George Floyd were not followed through with intent.

Ayas told NBC News, “I always say that it is so easy to make public statements and commitments because no one will eventually check if you’re committed to the things that you committed to,” Ayas explained.

“I can say: ‘I will be fully vegan by 2025’ because no one will ever call me in 2025 and ask me if I’m actually fully vegan. And that’s really what is going on here. In 2020, a lot of companies made big commitments, big statements around the DEI roles and goals. And as we are observing a turning of that tide, I think it’s very timely that we actually look into companies to see if they have kept up with those big statements they made.”

The lack of Black people in diversity and inclusion roles makes experts in that field suspect that, like Ayas, those announcements and positions were created for a public relations boost and little else.

Chris Metzler, the senior vice president of corporate DEI and environmental, social, and governance strategies at the National Urban League, tells NBC News, “Most of your diversity professionals at these companies report to human resources, which are headed by white women and in some cases, white men,” Metzler explained.

“So, it doesn’t surprise me that Black diversity officers . . . are being moved out. It’s increasingly becoming a dead-end job. Corporations are saying one thing and demonstrating something else. It’s going back to checking the box versus hiring and keeping qualified workers who can impact change in the company.” 

Those DEI experts also say that two key factors help make DEI positions less stable than others: a lack of support and hiring individuals who are not qualified to hold the position. Tai Robinson, a human resources professional based in Houston, says that another key part of doing DEI work successfully lies in employers having the willpower to allow those individuals to do the work they are hired for.

 Robinson told NBC News, “So many of these individuals were receiving these great salaries. But in reality, they were wearing golden handcuffs, unable to do but so much because the organization leaders didn’t want much done.”

The Harvard Business Review took a look at why diversity programs failed in 2016, and they surmised that those programs fail because companies do not use data, which shows that the impact of bias or sensitivity training often does not last beyond a day or two, and can also inspire negative feelings. After companies instituted mandatory diversity training for managers, the percentage of Black, Latina, and women managers dropped by 9%, and Asian managers fell by 5%. They found that instituting voluntary training engenders much better results, with an increase of up to 13% in Black men and no decline in the number of Black women managers. The Harvard Business Review also found that among the things that served to increase diversity was a diversity task force, diversity managers, self-managed teams, and college recruiting focused on the groups companies want to hire and retain.

In short, it is not that diversity programs don’t work or don’t achieve results; essentially, if the direction of the company’s program is misguided, then diversity numbers will be stagnant. Similar to what Robinson said, poor diversity outcomes or hiring numbers come down to the will of the individual companies hiring. It boils down to a company or industry doing the research and following through based on what works, not what the company feels comfortable with.

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