Workers want business leaders to speak up on social and political issues and think companies can do more when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, according to the latest CNBC|SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey. The C-suite should take notice: a majority of employees say it’s important for them to work at an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion. More than half say it’s very important to them. The poll was conducted among 8,233 employed adults across the U.S. between April 8 and 18, using the SurveyMonkey platform.
The wave of news events over the past several months—voting rights debates in Georgia and other states, anti-Asian violence, and the trial and conviction in the George Floyd death—have prompted business leaders to wade into heated issues in a very public way. And while 60% of workers in the survey say they approve of business leaders speaking up about these hot-button social and political issues, far fewer (36%) say they would back their own company’s leadership speaking out regardless of what they were advocating.
Those at the top of the organization—CEOs, business owners, and other C-suite leaders—are the least likely to say business leaders should be speaking out. A little over half in this group approve of those in leadership positions speaking out on social and political issues, compared with 62% of the rank and file.
There’s far more agreement on diversity and inclusion issues. Nearly 80% of those surveyed said they want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, and a third said their companies are doing “a lot” of work on this area.
“Workers who are satisfied with their company’s efforts on [DEI] issues are actually happier with their jobs,” says Laura Wronski, a research science manager at SurveyMonkey. “They are more likely than others to say that they have good opportunities to advance their careers, and they are more likely to feel like they are paid well for the work they do.”
Workers who are satisfied with their company’s efforts on [DEI] issues are actually happier with their jobs.
Laura Wronski, research science manager, SurveyMonkey
While the social implications for valuing diversity and inclusion resonate with workers, the business case is equally strong. As companies position themselves for growth in the wake of the pandemic, they need the very qualities that define diverse and inclusive cultures—innovation and resilience.
“Our business came to standstill last year, and it would have been really easy for us to say ‘let’s have a time out and focus on the financials,'” says Laura Fuentes, chief human resources officer at Hilton and a Workforce Executive Council (WEC) member. “Instead, we leaned into conversations around privilege, racism, and how men need to show up and become an ally.”
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Greg Cunningham, chief diversity officer at U.S. Bank and a WEC member, says that enlightened companies understand that equity is a catalyst for business growth. “It’s not just the Black community or the Asian community or women,” he says. “This time it feels like we’re all in solidarity with each other.”
Indeed, nearly 40% of the workers surveyed said that the events of the past year have made diversity and inclusion more of a priority at their companies.
“I think we’re at this inflection point where employees and leaders realize that the only way to grow and move forward is to bring more people into the tent,” Cunningham adds. “We all win when we all win.”
One of the biggest challenges companies are facing as the country works its way out of the pandemic is the ability to find the right talent. Tech companies have long struggled to fill demand, and the skills gap remains a significant hurdle. Respondents to the CNBC Technology Executive Council quarterly survey, for instance, said it had become harder to find qualified job candidates. In fact, the survey shows that almost half of respondents say that finding qualified employees remains their biggest risk.
Keeping employees happy and engaged is therefore a crucial element in this talent war. And an employee’s perception of his or her company’s DEI efforts has an impact on their job satisfaction, according to the SurveyMonkey poll. Those workers who say their company is “not doing enough” to prioritize diversity and inclusion have a Workforce Happiness Index score of 63, well below the average score of 72.
DJ Casto, chief human resources officer at Synchrony, and a WEC member, says millennials, Gen X and Gen Z are purpose-driven generations that act on principle and hold organizations accountable. “They’re opting to work for companies with clear value systems and corresponding behaviors around inclusion, transparency, fairness and sustainable business practices,” he adds.
Keeping and attracting the best talent, says Kevin Price, a WEC member and head of inclusion and diversity for Dixon Hughes Goodman, will be determined by “how well a company can saturate the talent lifecycle with the key principles of diversity and inclusion,” he says. “Remember, you want the culture on your walls to align with the culture in the halls.”