Changing Workplace Culture We have been living through a time like no other in modern history. Over the last year, people around the world have simultaneously faced a global pandemic responsible for more than 2.6 million deaths1 ; observed — and in many cases — participated in the world’s largest work-from-home experiment2 ; and witnessed a global movement to end systemic racism and police brutality.3 The enormity of these combined events has motivated company leaders to consider more closely the toll they have taken on employees’ lives. Acknowledging the disparate impact on certain segments of the workforce, including women, people of color,4 and front-line workers has motivated leaders to commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) more intentionally5 and become more transparent about their company’s DEI-related progress.
Such commitment and transparency on the part of company leaders has not been absent of public demand, however. Rather, regulators have argued that creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces may reduce discrimination and protect consumers and markets.7 Investors have asserted that greater diversity in the workplace and board room may drive long-term sustainable firm financial performance.8 And, studies show that more than 70 percent of job seekers are looking to work for a company with dedicated commitment to DEI.
Further, as diverse audiences have demanded greater DEI investment and progress, U.S. leaders have begun to alter how they frame their company’s approach to diversity. Namely, for more than 30 years, the “business case for diversity” has guided investment in diversity in the U.S. Specifically, the business case rationalizes the need for diversity in terms of its positive relationship to innovation, better decision-making, and more favorable financial outcomes.10 Yet, as reaching more diverse audiences continues to be of concern, leaders are starting to think more broadly about DEI as “a business imperative.
This revised approach assumes DEI’s importance as a matter of course, instills a sense of urgency, and values a range of metrics for assessing company performance and health, including equity, inclusion, and employee well-being. That is, reframing diversity as a business imperative more seriously considers the role of workplace culture in driving employees’ experiences at work and organizational outcomes. By “workplace culture,” we mean the beliefs and orthodoxies, values, and behaviors that are taken for granted in the workplace.
About This Report
The Value of Academic-Industry Research Collaborations
Both academic research and industry insights have come a long way since they first began addressing DEI-related topics more than 50 years ago. Yet, for much of this time, these insights have evolved in their separate domains — each catering to a distinct audience. The lack of attention to integrating DEI knowledge across academia and industry means that at times we have developed insights that either complement or contradict those found in the other domain. This also means that we, as a society, haven’t fully benefited from all that is known about DEI.
Yet, our team’s aim in embarking on this study was intended to provide a different vision for DEI research and practice and one that did not sacrifice rigor or relevance. That is, by engaging with industry DEI experts from the onset of our research study through the production of this report on an issue of importance to both organizational science and practice, we thought that we all would learn more than if we had remained solely within our professional “camps.” We were right. We are grateful to all of the DEI experts who joined us and taught us a great deal and, ultimately, we hope that the collaborative approach we have taken in this project will encourage more academic and industry experts to partner in the future. We look forward to the next phase of this work, which is to produce academic research articles that contribute to diversity scholarship more broadly. We would be open to collaborating with other companies in the future who are interested in diving more deeply into these questions in their organizations.
The research and team was led by Stephanie Creary Ph.D., assistant professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The research team included Nancy Rothbard Ph.D., Wharton management professor, Jared Scruggs, Wharton management doctoral candidate, and Moh Foundation Applied Insights Lab/Wharton MBA student research team members Elena Mariscal, Olivia Moore, Natalia Villarmán, Valerie Chia, Georgia Swee, Andrew Sparks, and Ayanna Warrington. The insights expressed in this report are those of the authors and research team members