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Is DEI in the workplace a passing fad?

5 minute read

Is DEI in the workplace a passing fad?

By: Sovereign Insurance

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In the business world, 2020 will go down in the history books as the year of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Ignited by a social uprising over racial injustice in the United States, organizations around the globe pledged to build more diverse and equitable workplaces.1 Fast forward to today and there are signs that DEI’s dominance is waning in many sectors, including insurance.

The 2024 Canadian Underwriter Brokerage DEI survey, sponsored by Sovereign Insurance, shows some concerning data points along these lines. The survey asked nearly 300 insurance brokers about numerous aspects of DEI, including how they feel about these efforts. Overall, 21% believe DEI’s time is nearly up: 13% say it’s a trend or passing fad their organization is participating in somewhat, while 6% “disapprove” of DEI and agree it’s a trend or passing fad that’s on its way out. An additional 2% are actively opposed to DEI initiatives.

At the other end of the spectrum, 47% of brokers indicate they “appreciate” DEI, viewing it as a strategic imperative. An additional 8% “adore” DEI and view it as a fundamental value. Nearly one quarter (24%) “accept” DEI, believing it’s needed for compliance, brand reputation and employee engagement.

While DEI isn’t about to disappear overnight, many organizations across different industries are pulling back on their efforts. Research and advisory company Forrester predicts organizational DEI investments will fall from 33% in 2022 to 20% by the end of 2024. The firm believes that in the wake of cuts that disproportionately affect DEI teams, “too many companies will default to ‘check the box’ efforts such as heritage days, leading to performative – rather than substantive – DEI programs.”2

What’s to blame?

There are numerous theories on why support for DEI is sliding. In the view of human-capital industry analyst Josh Bersin, DEI has “played an unwitting but central part in the culture wars,” which were brought on by declining trust in institutions, growing inequalities and the proliferation of technology. As he writes in an opinion piece, there’s also a perception that DEI programs are “woke” and prioritize ethnicity and gender over achievement and ability. As a result, lawsuits in the U.S. have been filed against firms with diversity hiring programs, scholarships and internships.3

For DEI strategist and consultant Lily Zheng, waning interest isn’t the culprit. Rather, as she writes in Harvard Business Review, “most organizations never integrated the many goals, programs, and initiatives spun up following 2020 into their core operations and never created the organizational infrastructure needed to turn a ‘commitment’ into a reality.” In other words, DEI programs that were started from employee demand wilted over time because they were never translated into organizational demand.4

The risks of cutting back

Back when many programs were developed in 2020, DEI wasn’t just viewed as the right thing to do. Many companies were moved by research demonstrating a strong business case for diverse and inclusive workplaces, from increased innovation to improved financial performance.

See: Can an organization be successful without addressing diversity?

In the Canadian brokerage sector today, agreement on DEI being critical to success is dropping, but still high. In this year’s survey, 75% of brokers agree that diversity must be addressed to be a successful business, down from 84% in 2023 and 91% in 2022. (This finding does not include 36% of respondents who describe their organizations as “leading” in diversity. The others labelled their organizations’ DEI culture as “not started” at 18%, “beginning” at 23%, and “aspiring” at 23%.) The survey also found that only three in 10 brokers (29%) in “non-leading” organizations are concerned about the risk posed by the lack of diversity in their firm. This level of concern has stayed stable from 2023 after dropping seven percentage points from 2022.

For those who agree DEI is vital for success, the top risks for not addressing diversity are losing access to the best talent (35%), losing good employees (30%), and lack of diverse perspectives and strong teams (30%).

Experts would agree those threats are real for any organization considering cutting back on its DEI efforts. The wide-ranging impacts include recruitment and retention challenges, missed innovation and creativity, declines in employee morale and engagement, lost productivity and profitability, and reputational damage.5,6

How to refocus on DEI

The question for proponents of DEI is how to bring the focus back to this important topic and ensure diversity is enmeshed in their organizations for the long term. While there may be waning interest and even pushback on DEI, this is an opportunity to rethink approaches and look for ways to improve.

See: How to maintain momentum on DE&I

At this point in the collective DEI journey, experts suggest organizations collect data on what is working and what’s not. This can be done through employee surveys, listening sessions and talking to people across the organization to get a read on the current state of DEI.7 As DEI expert Berthine Crèvecoeur West states, “The evolving DEI landscape in 2024 demands a more rigorous approach to measuring success, moving beyond surface-level diversity counts to assessing inclusivity, equity in advancements, and the impact on corporate culture.”8

Armed with data and insights, organizations can then tailor their investments to reflect the unique experiences and needs of their workforce, advises Aparna Rae, an educator and DEI consultant. Rather than running one-off DEI training sessions, leaders should focus on sustainable initiatives, policy changes, equitable processes, and continuous learning and development programs.9 She believes leaders should also articulate a clear and sincere stance on important social and political issues to enhance employee trust and loyalty and to support a positive workplace culture. “Remember, the goal is to create a culture where diversity is celebrated, equity is pursued, and inclusion is the norm.”

This article is part one in a three-part series on diversity and inclusion, based on Canadian Underwriter’s 2024 Diversity and Inclusion survey. Stay tuned for next instalments covering diversity in leadership and the rise in polarization.


1 Harvard Business Review, “To Sustain DEI Momentum, Companies Must Invest in 3 Areas,” Nov. 4, 2022

2 Forrester, “Predictions 2024: An EX Recession and an AI Revolution Reshape the Future of Work,” Oct. 26, 2023

3 HR Professionals Magazine, “Is DEI Going to Die in 2024?” Feb. 3, 2024

4 Harvard Business Review, “What Needs to Change About DEI – and What Doesn’t,” April 9, 2024

5 LinkedIn, “DEI Cuts Have Consequences,” Oct. 10, 2023

6  Forbes, “Five Reasons To Not Cut Your DEI Budget, Even In A Recession,” Oct. 13, 2022

7 Greater Good Magazine, “How to Keep Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives Alive at Work,” Oct. 30, 2023

8   LinkedIn, “Transforming Challenges into New Opportunities: The New DEI Paradigm in 2024,” March 7, 2024

9 Forbes, “Advancing DEI In 2024: Strategies For Leaders And Changemakers,” Dec. 1, 2023