Staying Focused on DEI

February 17, 2023

Recession-proof Your DEI Efforts

By Florence Holland

As organizations continue to watch for a potential recession, many may be wondering what might be sacrificed, halted or changed over the coming months as companies tighten their belts in anticipation of what seems to be an inevitable slowdown.

While diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies are gaining significance and focus in the workplace, some might view these efforts as “nice to have” rather than essential to their businesses. To ensure that your DEI efforts are recession-proof, you must be able to show the importance of these efforts in producing organizational change. How do you do that?

Use Data

Effective DEI measurements ensure you are using factual evidence and not relying on any bias to evaluate your programs. The adage of “what gets measured, gets done” reinforces that DEI should be data-driven and strategic, with success metrics clearly defined. Collect a variety of metrics from diversity demographic data over time and inclusion data to show how well individuals feel they belong, as well as equity, retention and programmatic data. Focusing on robust evaluation collection and thoughtful interpretation of that data enables you to speak to the business case for your specific organization to show progress.

Communicate Success Stories

Where you make improvements and enhance your DEI efforts (both quantitively and qualitatively) be sure to share those successes! You want to arm as many champions as possible within your organization to be able to speak to the success and impact that a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion has had on your organization’s culture. Why is this so important? According to Harvard Business Review, “high belonging” is linked to a whopping 56 percent increase in job performance, a 50 percent drop in turnover risk and a 75 percent reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person organization, this translates to annual savings of more than $52 million.

Calculate Your ROI

The key to assessing the return on investment for your DEI program is related to how you link your goals to performance measures. As you collect baseline data, you will need to monitor it at regular intervals. Assuming you’re gathering the right data and that your programs are leading to positive change, data analysis should reveal positive correlations between your findings and your business success. 

According to Diversity Best Practices, leading ROI calculations include a variety of market and workforce implications, including measurable impacts on sales, geographic reach, reputational capital, market share, customer satisfaction, recruitment, attrition, retention, turnover, safety incidents, innovation and more. 

You can also evaluate how soft skills translate into hard returns aligned with business goals. For example, if increased innovation was reached by leveraging diversity, then you can collect metrics related to streamlining processes or changes in the number of patents obtained between evaluation periods.

Consider whether there was an increase in revenue from new products and services. If so, those metrics could be given credit for strengthening the top line. Or maybe your organization saw growth in market share, sales, reputational capital, geographic reach or customer satisfaction. Inclusion efforts to improve engagement can show how increases in engagement scores might translate to increased productivity by measuring output per employee or profit per employee.

While it can be challenging to provide cause and effect, you can draw a strong correlation if you establish a specific baseline, have a strategic plan in place and regularly collect data across your baseline data points throughout the strategic plan timeline.


You must demonstrate through your DEI efforts the same level of data-based results as your sales team or line of business units. Your data should be at the forefront and shared broadly throughout your organization to ensure awareness and understanding of the importance and impact these efforts have on your organization’s profitability and culture. DEI is a business imperative that can help drive success across lines of business, geographies and other boundaries.

Florence Holland is director of culture diversity and inclusion at RSM US LLP.

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