3 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Trends in Store for 2021
Throughout this past year, we saw the emergence of many considerations—both internal and external, cultural and sociopolitical—that will factor heavily into the 2021 DEI landscape. In the spirit of putting human resources (HR) and diversity leadership in the best position to succeed, we have outlined here the three most pressing diversity, equity and inclusion trends we see coming in 2021. If you haven’t already, take a moment to first understand what diversity, equity, and inclusion really mean.
1. An expanding and evolving remote workforce
To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global workforce is a bit of an understatement. Many have had to adapt to new remote working environments, with no end currently in sight. While some will eventually return to office environments once the pandemic subsides, experts now predict a strong shift toward remote workforces.
Global Workplace Analytics, for instance, estimates that some 56% of the U.S. workforce could feasibly work from home. Based on that data, the firm predicts that 25-30% of the workforce will work from home by the end of 2021.
From a business perspective, moving toward a “distributed” model can make a lot of sense; less business travel, lower risk of outbreaks that might disrupt operations, and far less overhead without the need for a brick and mortar workspace.
From a DEI perspective, however, businesses will need to take an equitable approach to this new WFH paradigm. First off, not everyone is able to work from home; not everyone will have the same access to the workspace, time, and technology they need to be productive remote workers. Finally, HR teams will be tasked with finding creative ways to bring remote teams together to build culture in inclusive and equitable ways.
2. The lasting impact of COVID-19
On December 10, 2020, the United States moved a step closer to approving the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine. On the same day, a woman in the UK received the world’s first dose, signifying tremendous first steps toward some return to normalcy.
At least we hope.
Yet, some medical and infectious disease experts predict that it will take well into 2021 before enough people are vaccinated that we can return to normal ways of work and life. Up until that point, and even beyond, coronavirus will remain top of mind, as will precautions that help prevent spread.
In this diversity, equity, and inclusion trend, we can already see companies preparing for this ongoing tussle with coronavirus in a number of ways. For example, some companies are instituting special time-away policies for people who have to care for loved ones suffering from COVID-19—or who have contracted the virus themselves. Others are rolling out flexible WFH policies, leaving the option open for people who are uncomfortable about returning to the office.
It’s a start. But how are we accommodating workers who have to pick up the slack at home for a spouse or family member who cannot participate due to quarantine? What about people who choose to vaccinate, and those who don’t? It’s one of many COVID-19-related dynamics that, because it impacts various communities, people, and families differently, will undoubtedly raise questions about workplace equity. This is something talent teams and HR leaders are going to need to start thinking about, and eventually creating policies surrounding this new normal.
3. Artificial intelligence and automation in the hiring process
With an economy by and large strained by the throes of 2020, many businesses are tightening up operations. Margins are thin. At the same time, the need to source top talent is at an all-time high. In 2021, the ability to efficiently scour a high volume of candidates to source and hire top-tier talent will be a distinct competitive advantage.
In 2021, it will be incumbent on HR professionals and recruiters to find ways to build highly efficient, highly personalized candidate experiences. To do so at scale, however, so that recruiters aren’t spending hours per day on manual processes, will require the assistance of AI-powered software solutions.
Why automate? By creating automated workflows, stages, assessments—by simplifying the review process—you can free up talent and recruiting staff to focus on higher-value tasks. These include building a customized candidate experience, one built on a robust DEI framework that helps support these important initiatives. We know that 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity important while evaluating potential employers. To attract and keep this kind of talent, companies will have to use automation to ensure a diverse environment.
Moving forward: How to build foundational DEI
While we predict that remote work, coronavirus, and automation will be the most pressing diversity, equity and, inclusion trends facing HR professionals in 2021, this is by no means an exhaustive list. In the United States, for one, a new federal administration will take office at a time of intense political division and social unrest. The discourse around gender identity, including workplace rights protected under the law, will continue to evolve. And maintaining compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation will remain imperative for organizations large and small.
To build a strong culture and efficient processes around DEI, one capable of withstanding and adapting to constant change requires more than just a mission statement. Instead, HR professionals need to first learn how to make DEI a priority. They then need to find solutions that not only support robust DEI programs—from talent screening and hiring to employee retention—but provide actionable insights backed by data.