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Maintaining DEI Efforts in a Recession

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: companies that address biases and promote inclusion are stronger and more profitable. In our last blog, we talked about how social conditioning harmed women in the workplace, citing an interesting study by Great Place to Work. Their research found those companies’ success was even evident during the economic downturns in The Great Recession in 2007-2009. While we were explicitly talking about gender bias in that instance, the same holds true for other DEI initiatives. Smart leaders sharpening their cost-cutting knives to prepare for another recession understand that DEI is not the place to cut corners. Not convinced? Let’s dive deeper.

The Case for DEI

Fortune said, “diversity and inclusion may be the key to beating the next recession.” From their mouths, right? This prediction is based on that Great Place to Work study. Here’s a refresher, the study researched nearly 5 million employees working in 1,700 companies over the last 15 years. The surprising finding was that business resilience in a recession has little to do with cutbacks or hiring freezes. 

Instead, “diversity and inclusion efforts represent a potent source of strength for organizations as they weather tough times.” Why? Because five key employee groups had “positive, high-trust work experiences around inclusivity, innovation, fairness, and integrity.” 

The key groups were 

  • women
  • front-line workers
  • hourly male workers 
  • long-tenured employees
  • people of color

These are the employees who feel the pain of downturns first because they are often the first employees to be laid off or furloughed or to experience wage cuts. Also, these groups are the employees who have been historically disadvantaged due to race, sex, or economic class. 

The study claimed their positive daily work experiences were critical in predicting how well their employers performed during that recession. These positive work experiences included feeling like a respected and accepted member of the organization, management following through on promises and promotions, feeling welcome when joining new teams, and contributing to new innovations. The companies saw their stock performance increase by 14.4%. In the middle of the Great Recession! And the gains continued post-2009. 

Inclusion is not “Non-essential”

As of mid-July 2022, hiring freezes, layoffs, and budget cuts have already begun at Microsoft, Amazon, Lyft, Google, and other tech companies. Business leaders often cut “non-essential” programs and processes during an economic downturn. Some may feel that DEI initiatives should be on that list, but there is evidence (in addition to the study we’ve already discussed) that DEI drives business. 

DEI is not solely an internal initiative. According to Nielsen, the multicultural consumer has the spending power of $3.2 trillion. In addition, the LGBTQ community is the fastest growing minority segment in the United States and has the spending power of $1.4 trillion. Also, people with disabilities spend about $500 billion. In other words, your customers are part of these growing minority segments and will recognize and reward DEI efforts from their favorite brands and products that are created with their experience in mind.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer report, 86% of consumers expect brands to take action beyond the business of selling their products or services, including addressing societal challenges like racial inequities or gender bias. The companies that take these views to heart will succeed even in a downturn because their customers will support them.

The Battle for Talent Will Continue

Hiring freezes may have started, but that doesn’t negate the talent battle over the last couple of years. Companies are struggling to retain and engage employees. But according to a study from Deloitte, employers with inclusive cultures have:  

  • 22% higher productivity rate
  • 22% lower turnover rate
  • 27% higher profitability rate
  • 39% higher customer satisfaction rate

These companies do not have long lists of empty positions they cannot fill due to resignations. Instead, they are focusing on retaining and developing talent–and that talent is delivering. 

The research shows that by supporting your team with inclusive programs that address the stress of real life, you increase staff loyalty, cultivate a strong company culture, and grow your business.

Sweating the DEI Details

While costly advertising and HR initiatives may be off the table, that doesn’t mean your HR department should forget about building an inclusive culture. That is a mission your team should tackle every day. The work is in the details. 

This blog offers simple but out-of-the-box ideas to promote diversity, inclusivity, and acceptance daily. Here are a few highlights from this blog and some other expert ideas to get you thinking about what your team can do. 

  • Rewrite job descriptions with gender-neutral language.
  • Women tend to pick up a lot of office chores, like cleaning common areas and washing dishes. Stop this nonsense by starting a rotating cleaning schedule that includes everyone. 
  • Establish a flexible work schedule so employees can create their own work hours. 
  • We love this one. The temperature in most office buildings defaults to what’s most comfortable for men. However, women often need it to be much warmer. Can we find a happy middle? 
  • Update your sick leave policy to cover mental health days. This can be a game changer when workloads increase due to downsizing and hiring freezes, and burnout becomes a real danger. A single mental health day could make a difference for an otherwise committed employee who just needs a break.
  • Acknowledge holidays for minority groups, including Juneteenth, Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan, and Pride month. 
  • Keep your employee resource groups engaged with planning internal events and encourage volunteer efforts from all levels in the organization so the burden doesn’t fall solely on a few volunteer organizers. 
  • Offer paid volunteer opportunities with nonprofits focused on DEI. 
  • Create DEI message boards on the company intranet.


There are plenty of other small and large ideas that can support your team and create a more inclusive culture. If you don’t know where to start, ask your employees. They’ll tell you!


Another recession seems to be looming, but this is not the time to forget the importance of DEI. The formula is clear. Your employees are your greatest asset. With an inclusive, equitable, and trusting culture, they will see your company through the next downturn. 

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