As more and more companies bring their employees back to the office, doing so may inadvertently create divisions within the workforce. Employees can find themselves in opposing camps such as vaccinated and non-vaccinated or working remotely and in the office. Meanwhile, the Great Resignation is rewriting the social contract of work. Employees are looking for new opportunities in record numbers, and underrepresented talent are being pursued by firms at unprecedented rates with very attractive packages.

At the same time, employees’ values have changed dramatically. The prolonged pandemic has emboldened workers to reassess their personal and professional goals. They are opting out of the proverbial rat race and opting into a more integrated life aligned with their own values, especially when their organization’s purpose and culture are not a fit.

Last, many employers have not made the desired progress on their bold and public commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Research from Benevity in 2021 found that while 83 percent of employees say they want their company to prioritize racial injustice and workplace diversity, only 26 percent believe their employer has fulfilled most of its public commitments in addressing these issues. As a result, workers may question their organization’s authenticity and trustworthiness.

This trifecta of current challenges can be daunting, especially combined with the persistent hurdles DEI practitioners often face. But to meet the moment, DEI and HR teams can ask these key questions:

1. Is your culture—both formal (the official norms, values and beliefs communicated by leaders and practiced by all) and informal (the organic nature in which networks and working relationships are built and leveraged)—capable of overcoming these challenges?

The time may be right to reestablish the foundation of your culture by reconnecting to your purpose and values, especially with the return to a hybrid workplace where the potential for employees to feel excluded is high.

2. Have you built contingency plans to mitigate the cultural unknowns that will arise as employees return to work?

Think about your engagement efforts and determine how your hybrid work arrangements should account for and overcome biases. Two of the most common: proximity bias, where we tend to favor and prefer whatever is closest to us in time and space, and affinity bias, when we connect more with people who seem like us and share common interests and beliefs.

3. Is your organization transparent with the progress made and have your leaders reinforced their organizational and personal commitment to DEI?

Whether it is a 2.0 version of your commitments or a full overhaul, your employees, clients and customers all want to understand what progress has been made and what more will be done to advance DEI in the workplace.

The racial reckoning of the last two years has forced companies to examine their own corporate cultures and scrutinize where systemic bias may be embedded in their own operations. That self-reflection has brought diversity, equity and inclusion to the forefront, which according to Indeed.com resulted in a 71 percent increase in diversity jobs, which is assumed could help boost effective outcomes. However, there is still plenty of work to be done.

“Whether It Is a 2.0 Version of Your Commitments or a Full Overhaul, Your Employees, Clients and Customers All Want To Understand What Progress Has Been Made and What More Will Be Done To Advance Dei in the Workplace”

As DEI professionals, we cannot take our foot off the gas and lose the momentum we’ve created, especially as we work in a virtual or hybrid environment.

Recommitting to your company values, culture and purpose is the foundation for embedding DEI into your organization’s cultural DNA and creating a springboard for actionable change. As more employees head back into the office, they want to see DEI initiatives as a fundamental part of the values-aligned normal they expect if they plan to stay.