From their height in 2020 and 2021, corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have seen a fall from prominence. Political backlash as well as some stakeholder disengagement have made DEI seem more controversial to some, with the consequence that investment in such initiatives has taken a backseat and executives are often less willing to talk publicly about them. But what’s interesting is that these programs, for all the backlash, continue. And leaders continue to see DEI as important.

Executives Continue To Value DEI – But It’s More Scrutinized

A survey conducted by Morning Consult and released in January 2024 showed 82% of business leaders consider diversity initiatives as essential to their business strategy. Furthermore, according to the study, “45% of business leaders said the main reason they have diversity initiatives is to improve business performance, improve talent acquisition (43%), and increase innovation and creativity (38%).” What this says is that executives continue to see DEI as important, not just for ethical or reputational reasons but for concrete business reasons.

Rethinking Your DEI Executive Communications Strategy

In an environment where DEI is more controversial than it was previously, but still widely considered beneficial and necessary by business leaders, DEI executive communications strategy around it should be based on three principles:

  1. Emphasize benefits to the company: If executives think DEI is good for business, they should say so. They may have previously talked about ethical obligations (and these are obviously important), but with the ongoing backlash, it’s time to emphasize in DEI executive communications that a more diverse workforce is good for performance and talent acquisition/retention, especially among younger workers.
  2. Move beyond platitudes: Paying lip service to DEI without demonstrating concrete action is the worst of both worlds: you’ll alienate those who care and the detractors alike. If your DEI executive communications have so far revolved around committing to diversity and equity in principle, or simply donating to particular causes or holding DEI training sessions, it’s time to move to actual strategy or stop talking about the issue.
  3. Focus on specific goals and results: As with environmental issues, there has been pushback on companies that commit vaguely to the greater good but say little about specifics. With both proponents and skeptics of DEI, being clear about where your company is actually looking to improve – and how and where it is achieving results – is key to communicating a positive, beneficial approach.

In all these areas, it’s crucial that executives are those who lead – and publicly. DEI executive communications will only become more, not less, important as the issue becomes more scrutinized, nuanced and controversial. Following these three principles is essential to protecting DEI efforts from backlash as well as bolstering your company’s reputation.

The most successful companies are strategic with the way they communicate. In fact, a corporate communications plan is crucial to build a stronger brand – for you or your company. Whether it’s a corporate communications plan, conference, or speaking opportunity, brainstorm with our team to learn more about how to shape your voice.

3 Principles for DEI Executive Communications in 2024 was last modified: February 19th, 2024 by Brian Sherry