There’s no doubt that the racial inequities and social injustices laid bare in America in 2020 have brought forth a new level of attention from corporations and a desire to be a part of the conversation (and solution) in order to drive significant and systemic change. The question going into 2021 is whether the increased efforts by companies to embrace equity and inclusion were simply performative, or whether they will be supported by corporate leadership and backed by the resources and resolve required to drive meaningful change.
We predict that three major workplace trends to emerge in recent years will continue in 2021, but with new urgency, and with the quest for meaningful inclusivity now at their core:
1. Companies will pivot from pledges to action
Last year, many companies announced bold commitments, with significant financial backing, to promote racial equity, in response to the realities of racial and economic inequity brought to the forefront by the pandemic and incidents of racial violence. This year, we expect to see a progression from pledges to actions, as employees, customers, investors and other critical stakeholders hold corporations increasingly accountable for the promises they made.
Unsurprisingly, there will be a divergence between companies that make equity a business imperative and those who do not. Companies that are serious will integrate equity into all aspects of their enterprise—from their talent practices, to product design, to the policies and legislation for which they advocate, and how they are investing their capital. It should come as no surprise when there’s a divergence between companies that make equity a business imperative and those that don’t.
2. A massive reskilling of workers, internally and externally
Over the past several decades, the workplace has been disrupted by factors like globalization, technology and an eroding social contract between workers and employers. Reskilling is a solution large employers have been focusing on in recent years. We expect this to continue, but through a new lens of societal equality.
Covid-19 exacerbated an already precarious situation with record unemployment and indications that many of the jobs lost were permanent. Black and brown communities were disproportionately impacted. To create individual financial stability, and therefore broader societal financial stability, there will need to be a large-scale reskilling effort to match people with quality employment opportunities. Corporations, government entities and nonprofits are aware of this critical need and are increasingly investing in programs to address it, but efforts are fragmented. Greater cross-sector collaboration is needed to see efficiency at scale.
Without inclusive solutions and interventions, 2021 will see a continued widening of the racial wealth gap. Companies have a role to play by not only investing in the reskilling of their own workforces but by supporting organizations that help educate, train, and develop individuals for success in the workplace.
3. Employees will expect even more from their employers
In 2021, we expect to see a rising number of employees asking some subset, if not all, of the following questions:
- Is the company I work for providing opportunities for me to upskill and grow professionally?
- Do the company’s values align with mine?
- Do I see people who look like me reflected at all levels of the company?
- Do I have the benefits and flexibility I need to continue working during such a tumultuous time?
Employees will expect employers to provide multifaceted benefits that care for their diverse and evolving needs, and their holistic well-being—financial, physical and mental wellness, or “employee tending.”
Companies who ignore this shift will do so at their peril, but those who adapt and respond to the changing demands will reap long-term benefits in the form of employee loyalty, with 54% of American workers reporting in a recent Prudential survey that they are more likely to work for their employer long-term because of their response to the pandemic. This is a critical matter for companies that want to not only build but retain diverse talent.