US companies increasing diversity efforts even amid more vocal pushback, study finds

Littler survey shows majority of companies expanding their diversity and inclusion commitments

Organisations are continuing to focus on improving diversity and inclusion Shutterstock

More than half of US executives say their organisations have expanded their diversity, equity and inclusion strategies over the past year despite an increased backlash against broader diversity initiatives, according to a new Littler study.

As many as 57% of C-suite executives in the US said they had grown their diversity commitments over the past 12 months even as 59% reported growing opposition to diversity programmes in the US following the US Supreme Court’s decision to roll back affirmative action college admissions policies last June, according to Littler’s Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (IE&D) C-Suite Survey Report. 

Just over a third of executives said their organisations had maintained the same level of diversity activity, while only 1% reported a significant decrease in their efforts.

Jeanine Conley Daves, a Littler shareholder and member of its IE&D consulting practice, said: “We’re seeing many employers maintain — or even double down on — their commitment to IE&D, even as backlash spikes. Demonstrating that IE&D is part of their core values, many organisations are taking the prudent step of auditing and assessing their current initiatives, rather than eliminating them amid the challenges in today’s political and legal environment.”

The survey also revealed a lack of alignment within boardrooms, with chief legal officers tending to have a different perspective than chief diversity officers (CDOs). While 69% of overall respondents said the Supreme Court’s June decision hadn’t changed their approach to diversity and inclusion, CDOs were less convinced – with just 41% saying their approach was unchanged. Meantime, as many as 61% of CLOs said their organisations were ramping up their social justice initiatives, compared to just 11% of CDOs.

Littler said this lack of C-suite alignment means companies should increase communication across roles to reduce legal risks and allow for the effective implementation of their diversity and inclusion programmes.

While the majority of organisations are either maintaining or increasing their diversity commitments, more than a third of executives (35%) said their organisations don’t have clear diversity and inclusion plans and goals in place. Only 34% of respondents said their organisations have defined benchmarks and metrics to track their diversity goals, with just 23% saying they are given incentives to advance their diversity efforts.

However, 58% said their organisations had put in place training and development opportunities for diverse employees, while 55% said their organisations have started promoting diverse employees into leadership positions.

Erin Webber, Littler’s managing director and president, said: “The past few years have shown that IE&D is not a self-contained concept, but rather something that is embedded into nearly every aspect of an organisation, from employee engagement and hiring to data privacy and pay equity.”

She added: “As companies take a more holistic look at their business interests and commitments in IE&D programmes, they are more likely to view such initiatives in the context of other high-stakes workplace legal issues for their organisations.”

Earlier this week Cozen O'Connor announced the creation of a diversity, equity and inclusion practice, chaired by Miami-based commercial litigator Simeon Brier.

Its remit is to provide "legal, consulting and public relations services to clients with respect to lawfully fulfilling their ongoing commitment to building diversity, equity, inclusion, wellbeing and belonging". 

Last year, the International Bar Association (IBA) launched a diversity and inclusion toolkit to help law firms embed diversity and inclusion principles into their businesses, including guidelines for creating an action plan and how to monitor progress.

The IBA was among organisations and individuals shortlisted for the Women and Diversity in Law Awards, which will be hosted by The Global Legal Post in London on 13 March. 

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