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Four Trends Impacting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have been part of the leadership landscape for some time. The nomenclature has shifted over decades and even centuries. That people are, in some ways, socialized to see differences and make judgments about what makes something or someone different. The workplace benefits from a shared language, a way to garner shared meaning and understanding about what particular words mean.

Defining and expanding D&I

The acronym D&I does not come without debate. Compelling cases exist for adding terms such as “Justice” (National Health Foundation, 2021), “Belonging” (McGregor, 2019), “Accessibility” (American Alliance of Museums, 2021), and “Engagement” (The National Council, 2020). Some also suggest changing the order of terms, placing “Equity” or “Justice” in front of “Inclusion” or “Diversity.” Though definitions vary depending on the source, D&I continues to be the most prevalent terminology in professional associations including the Organization Development Network (2021), Association for Talent Development (2021), the Society for Human Resource Management (2021), and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2021). It is also widely referenced in management literature, including the Harvard Business Review and Forbes, and consulting outlets like Deloitte (2021) and McKinsey & Company (2021). According to a recent job search, over 4,344 positions in the US include “D&I” in their titles (2021).

There are many trends occurring in the talent marketplace, but we will focus on five possible trends that may well shape the future of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts, as well as the trend’s possible impacts on D&I efforts.  

Trend 1: generational impacts on D&I learning

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Five generations are in today’s workplaces. The case for neurodiversity is strong: having a span of analog learners to digital natives. Neural pathways for acquiring knowledge are different. Generationally each group below has had a timebound life-altering event affecting their perceptions of D&I. Therefore, personal definitions are different just how they will internalize their organization’s DE&I training efforts:

Traditionalists: members born between 1927 and 1946

Baby Boomers: members born between 1947 and 1964

Generation X: members were born between 1965 and 1980

Millennials: members born between 1981 and 2000; and

Generation Z: members born between 2001 and 2020.

Trend 2:  Navigating diversity fatigue

Haven’t we done enough already? That question, and those like it, are becoming popular when marginalized, underrepresented persons state they are still not experiencing equitable treatment in organizational settings. Those who are D&I practitioners know that corporate culture change does not happen overnight, and it does not happen by itself. Changes in culture are said to be marathons, not sprints. 

Diversity fatigue is sometimes regarded as an issue primarily affecting white males (Madison& Kofman 2018; Miranda-Wolff 2019). In her book Black Fatigue (2020), Mary-Frances Winters details how the issue that engages, informs, and inspires diversity efforts ,can become traumatic, tiring and even life-threatening.  Every employee will be affected differently by the culture shift and diversity work associated with D&I efforts.  

Trend 3: the umbrella of D&I considerations

To continue to grow to be inclusive you should always be looking to make sure that your programs include everyone. Diversity is moving beyond the basic recognition of difference.  Diversity is not just the “Big Three”- gender, race, orientation. Diversity is expanding to identify the invisible differences between individuals, for example:

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On top of these factors, there are even more considerations that DE&I has recognized as impactful characteristics.

Neurodiversity: – A term coined by Judy Singer to mean the virtually infinite neuro-cognitive variability within the human population.  It points to the fact that every human has a unique nervous system with a unique combination of abilities and needs. (Singer 2020).  Neurodiversity should not be confused for or with mental illness. They are two separate topics. Additional information can be found at the Neurodiversity Hub

Socioeconomic Status: Income disparities and wage gaps are front and center in the workplace--and now more than ever before. Each income level experiences varied challenges.  


Trend 4: Global impact of D&I

The pandemic prompted many organizations to draw on technological work methods to achieve productivity and has changed how people interact. Interacting differently through various platforms—such as videoconferencing, audioconferencing, texting, and emailing—changes how people experience workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

When people work across national cultures, that also affects D&I efforts. Diversity does not mean the same thing in the U.S. as it does in some other places. In China, 95 percent of the nation is from the same ethnic group. People from different genders are also treated differently in various national cultures. Globalization has prompted many organizations to realize that D&I efforts need to be grounded in the local realities of where business operations occur. As our workforce continues to be dispersed, this is sure to be an enduring trend in years to come.

Final thoughts

Data suggests that how organizations develop better inclusion strategies and integrate them into their organizational culture becomes an essential enabler for growth and leads to a more potent competitive edge (Hunt et al. 2018). Organizations continue to search for leaders who can guide companies and organizations toward high growth while achieving a best-in-class employee experience through a culture of inclusivity and belonging (Cox and Blake 1991). 

As the definition and cultural perception of DE&I continue to shift, L&D has a great role to play in helping educate and empower teams to recognize and celebrate the unique factors that we all bring to our workplace. 


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About Author

Dr. Christina Barss
Dr. Christina Barss

Dr. Christina Barss is an experienced industry subject matter expert in improvement sciences and organizational culture change. Her unique blend of practical, academic, and art perspectives creates custom operational and employee engagement solutions that transform the bottom line. For example, her PhD in sustainable systems design focused on disparately located interprofessional teams in transition during lean transformation at a large, midwestern, urban, academic medical center. Dr. Barss' 12 years in healthcare were filled leading strategic enterprise-level initiatives to improve patient safety, quality, service, and innovation as well as teaching and coaching executives. From C-suite to frontline, she connects seamlessly and guides others in building trust bridges. Her continuous improvement science foundation began in the manufacturing industry. She presents nationally and internationally on design thinking, change management, organizational culture, corporate learning, executive education, and succession planning.

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