DEI success ultimately stems from strong CEO leadership, survey indicates

CEO leadership is crucial for success with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, according to a June 5 report from The Executive Leadership Council, meaning leaders must regularly communicate with workers about the links between DEI initiatives and business goals.

In a survey of 180 Black executives, 73% who rated their companies as strong DEI performers credited their CEOs with driving DEI strategy. Strong DEI initiatives were also correlated with high rates of job satisfaction and retention.

“Through our members’ own experiences, we are learning that unequivocally, companies that double down on the most effective and proven DEI programs are creating a workforce that is more engaged and motivated, which naturally leads to enhanced business performance,” Michael Hyter, president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council, said in a statement.

While acknowledging the increased pushback and legal challenges around DEI programs, Black executives noted the importance of sustaining and improving their initiatives. About 72% rated their company’s commitment to DEI as strong, and 64% said their companies are reaffirming or maintaining DEI commitments despite anti-DEI pressure. However, about 36% reported a reduction in vocal support for DEI at their company.

Executives who reported strong DEI practices pointed to other positive business practices and related benefits, such as higher job satisfaction, a strong corporate reputation, clearly defined role responsibilities, alignment to company missions and values, opportunities for growth and equitable compensation.

Other key themes emerged as well, the report found. Companies with successful DEI initiatives were more likely to treat DEI like other business drivers, create clear measurement mechanisms to understand and reinforce which DEI strategies work best to drive business outcomes, and continue to support DEI as a business grower amid anti-DEI sentiment.

To drive DEI goals forward, the survey respondents said, company leaders can communicate about DEI enabling superior business performance, provide equitable access and opportunity for everyone and strengthen corporate culture through an environment that enhances engagement.

About 40% of HR professionals indicate that DEI progress is a measurable objective for their organization’s leadership team, according to an August 2023 report from About a third had a DEI budget, and less than half had a designated DEI leader.

Despite ongoing challenges, though, more than 70% of C-suite and HR leaders at major U.S. corporations said they plan to increase their DEI commitment in the next two years, according to a Bridge Partners report. More than 90% said they believe DEI is important for its positive impact on recruiting, hiring and retention.

However, if some initiatives are lacking support, DEI efforts can evolve in 2024 to better fit the organization, Mandy Price, CEO and co-founder of DEI tech company Kanarys, told HR Dive. Leaders can return to the foundation by reviewing company needs, business goals and the culture, mission and vision, she said, asking the questions: “What are you missing, in terms of meeting employees’ needs around inclusivity and belonging?” and “How can you provide it?”