Follow The Evolution Of Diversity, Equity And Inclusion In The Workplace

It has been roughly three years since corporate America made a flurry of commitments to address systemic racism. But driving diversity, equity, and inclusion change goes far beyond launching initiatives. Demographics continue to morph around us, as do organizational cultures, business needs, and talent. It’s been a true evolution.

The public is witnessing the undoing of affirmative action in college and university admissions, and in today’s fast-paced, complex business environment, artificial intelligence is increasingly being used to support DEI agendas.

DEI leaders are facing extreme fatigue and burnout. Hollywood DEI executives have stepped down, and the numbers are expected to increase in other industries. More recently, all DEI initiatives were reportedly eliminated from Walt Disney World’s governing district, now led by appointees of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District followed suit by dropping its entire DEI committee and any jobs associated with the group.

Global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that companies spent $7.5 billion on DEI-related programs in 2020. That spending power is projected to more than double to $15.4 billion by 2026.

Geraldine White, Chief Diversity Officer of Publicis Groupe US / Photo Credit: Publicis Groupe




Chief Diversity Officer at Publicis Groupe US Geraldine White leads the organization’s DE&I efforts across its largest market. She poses three critical questions: Beyond bringing diverse talent to our industries, what are we doing to support them at our organizations? How are we building more inclusive experiences that enable talent to stay? How are we monitoring career progression and the accountability required to ensure success?

She told BLACK ENTERPRISE that the French-based advertising holding company launched initiatives to amplify support for Black talent, including but not limited to the Black Talent Summit and Black Talent Career Development program and curriculum, in which each participant receives career coaching, dedicated community cohorts and connection, and ongoing support by career level.

“There is no predetermined solution to every set of circumstances. DEI work is marked by nuance and requires an appreciation for complexity and for charting new paths amid challenges and an ever-evolving landscape.” White told BE.

“We continue to stay focused on serving the varied experiences of talent across all communities, identities, and facets of intersectionality while not losing sight of making an impact for Black talent as the most under-represented in our industry. We are constantly digging deeper into the issues that matter most to talent today—which looks different for every person within our organization—but with common themes across areas, such as how we collectively build and navigate the future of work, addressing mental health and well-being with a lens toward identity, and beyond.”

Regina Lawless, former Instagram DEI executive & founder of Bossy & Blissful / Image Source: Charles Schoenberger Photography

Regina Lawless, author, leadership coach, and former head of DEI at Instagram, transitioned into entrepreneurship after her husband died. She told BE that she experienced firsthand while climbing the corporate leader that Black women “face incredible barriers to advance and maintain our success and often have to contend with bias, isolation, glass-cliff assignments, and higher rates of burnout than other groups.”

So she founded Bossy & Blissful to help high-achieving, high-earning Black women find purpose beyond their paycheck to find intentional, sustainable success at work and home.

“Black women should continue to take their careers into their own hands and be strategic about their networks and intentional about which experiences will set them up for advancement—and above all else, take care of themselves and make sure to have some fun along the way,” Lawless advised.

Given the constant highs, lows, and constant changes, let’s look at the evolution of DEI.

Evolution of Diversity in the Workplace


Workplace diversity calls to action, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, took place during one of the most tumultuous and divisive decades in history. As a result, large US-based companies began to engage in conversations about diversity. The country’s first minority employee resource group (ERG) was formed at Xerox in 1970. The National Black Employees Caucus (now the National Black Employees Association) was founded to address discrimination issues and create a fair corporate environment.


As a wave of Gen Xers entered the workforce, efforts in diversity hiring began for many Fortune 500 companies, but with a strong focus on compliance. Companies meet many industry and government requirements for diversity in the second stage of DEI maturity (compliance). And some may never surpass the next three stages: Tactical, Integrated, and Sustainable. Research and studies on inclusion became a part of the conversation highlighting demographic factors that would impact the U.S. labor market.

2000s to 2020

Inclusion became a focus for many organizations employing promotion and development opportunities such as diverse leadership and boards of directors. Gen Y, known as the digital natives, enter the workforce expecting meaningful work. Emerging research findings showcase the real effects of unconscious bias on inclusion in the workplace. Grassroots initiatives birth an increase of ERG groups at approximately 90% of Fortune 500 companies.

In 2020, George Floyd’s death was the boiling point in America’s long-storied history of racial injustice. As a result of worldwide protests and demonstrations over the Summer of 2020, corporations, in particular, shifted their focus on fully addressing racial disparities and inequities within and outside corporate America.

“Diversity & Inclusion” is joined by equity, arising from movements to close racial and gender gaps in employee pay and advancement. This considerable momentum focused on gender parity and hiring neurodiverse talent, while limited resources were poured into individuals with disabilities and people of color.

What happens now?

These days, DEI isn’t a priority for everyone. But the DEI field in the workplace will continue to evolve despite the lows.

“I think, sadly, we will see a rollback of opportunities or investment in DEI initiatives in certain sectors. However, I anticipate other companies who’ve already done the work and recognize the value of DEI will find creative ways to continue their programs and equity-focused policies,” Lawless said.

She continued: “Creating more fairness in the tools [and] systems that managers use to evaluate, promote and pay employees, and increasing sponsorship of Black talent is necessary to advance Black professionals at parity. “

According to White, though metrics are critical, “representation isn’t achievable or sustainable without also focusing on retention.” She added: “While there’s no one size fits all approach, we know there is a distinct, data-backed correlation between diversity and organizational performance, and when we put programs in place that enable our talent to show up authentically in the workplace — they can also show up authentically in the ways they deliver for our clients and partners, resulting more culturally relevant and impactful work.”

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