DEI policies and politics divide workplace

In today's workplace, many employees avoid co-workers they don't agree with politically, and also work to resist business efforts to deploy DEI policies.

The workplace is not unlike the public square, with employees polarized over political and social issues. These divisions make it difficult for employers -- especially those pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

In the workplace, 44% of U.S. employees have avoided co-workers because of their political beliefs, according to Gartner's survey data, and a nearly equal number believe DEI policies are "divisive," Gartner analyst Rachel Lawrence said during the research firm's ReimagineHR conference last week.

Slightly less than half of the workforce is saying that "our efforts to make things more inclusive are instead creating more fractures," Lawrence said.

Lawrence said this splintering results in employee pushback on DEI efforts, and sometimes the pushback can be disguised as good intentions. That includes the manager who "always wants more DEI data and never does anything to take action with it," she said, to knowing chuckles from the audience.

Gartner is known to release a lot of survey data at its conferences, and this ReimagineHR conference was no exception. But for the DEI survey data, attendees backed the broader assessment of the problem today.

One attendee, Aja Howell, director of talent management at a private sector firm, said there is a "widening divide amongst people," and she doesn't believe the problem will fade away. It's not just politics, but religion and cultural issues dividing people as well, she said.

Don't avoid DEI policy pushback

If avoiding pushback becomes an organizational habit, the status quo is that resistance is normalized as part of the culture.
Rachel LawrenceAnalyst, Gartner

Lawrence said the best way to deal with resistance and pushback to DEI policy efforts is to engage it.

Silence from management about DEI policies and efforts "makes employees feel more alienated; they don't feel heard," Lawrence said. "If avoiding pushback becomes an organizational habit, the status quo is that resistance is normalized as part of the culture."

The political and social divides affecting the country are affecting all levels of business, according to Gartner.

In a Gartner survey of boards of directors, 57% of respondents reported that "polarization and a polarized society is the biggest source of risk that we have," Gartner analyst Frank Buytendijk said in a presentation about how executive leadership must respond to societal change.

In that same survey, Buytendijk noted, 60% of CEOs think it is a good idea to speak out on social issues.

He said a good portion of employees won't necessarily agree with their CEOs on certain social issues, but warned that keeping silent also comes at a cost.

"If you do speak out on a social topic, you run the risk of alienating a part of your employees and a part of your customers," Buytendijk said. "If you do not speak out on social issues, you run the risk of alienating everybody."

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget Editorial. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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