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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging: The Disconnect Between Employers’ Efforts and the Employee Experience

Most large employers have a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy or program in place. Yet recent independent research we conducted found that many employees feel the DEI programs and policies in their workplace aren’t delivering on their promises. In this week’s blog, we explore this disconnect and share details on the employee segments who felt most strongly that companies could be doing more to foster an inclusive workplace.

About our research

In September 2022, with the help of Blue Research, WebMD Health Services conducted a survey to better understand employee experiences and perceptions of their employers’ DEI efforts, and whether those programs and policies had made a positive difference in their work life. We also explored a relatively new component of an inclusive workplace – belonging, or the extent to which employees feel they matter and are valued at their organization.

The survey was a custom-designed, ‘blind’ online survey, completed by 2,004 individuals working for U.S.-based companies with more than 2,500 employees. We captured a random, representative sample, as well as an ‘oversample’ of specific employee segments, including African American/Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z so that we could compare results with a high degree of statistical certainty.

Employees question commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging (DEI&B).

In general, though 90% of respondents work for employers who have DEI&B programs in place, a large percentage of employees feel these programs simply aren’t delivering on promises.

Here are some highlights:

  • Not surprisingly, 72% of employees said they want to work for a company that supports DEI&B in the workplace…
  • …And, while nine in 10 respondents said their company has programs and policies in place, more than 60% said their company is not doing enough.
  • Nearly two-thirds said they would benefit if their company were truly committed to DEI&B policies. ​
  • Almost half (46%) have personally experienced situations inconsistent with DEI&B, i.e., they felt:
    • Their opinions and perspectives were not always valued;
    • Like an outsider;
    • Isolated from other people;
    • Treated differently based on how they look; or
    • Their company does not want people like them.

Some employee groups feel more impacted by the shortfall in DEI&B efforts than others.

As expected, not all employee groups felt similarly about their employer’s DEI&B efforts. Looking at the results by specific employee segments, we found:

  • LGBTQ employees struggle more than other employee segments with belonging, with 65% reporting that companies need to do a better job of fostering belonging, and two in five reporting that they feel undervalued.
  • African-American and/or Black respondents were more likely to report concerns with issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. One in four reported they have been treated differently based on how they look.
  • Asians were more likely to believe their company is ineffective in cultivating a culture where they feel as if they matter or belong. ​
  • One in three Hispanics said they feel undervalued, with 76% reporting they would personally benefit if their company were more committed to DEI&B. ​
  • Almost 40% of women were more likely to feel their contributions were not valued.
  • Younger generations – – felt employers were not doing enough in the DEI&B space and that there should be more accountability for inaction.

Increasing accountability among managers and supervisors would make the difference.

Given these results, we were curious to know what employees felt would help to make the workplace more inclusive. Nearly half of respondents cited that meaningful change would require  “accountability.” We assumed that this referred to accountability at the highest levels of the organization, i.e., the CEO and senior leaders.

However, 66% of employees indicated that managers and supervisors, rather than higher-level corporate leaders, should be responsible for DEI&B, and held accountable when they fall short. Strikingly, only 16% said the job should be left to Human Resources. ​Several employees felt everyone should be responsible – from the top down and bottom up.

We have an opportunity to change the way employees experience DEI&B.

To summarize, our research revealed that while most companies have DEI, and possibly “B,” programs in place, employees feel these efforts have not really achieved the desired impact. The majority of employees feel employers aren’t doing enough, and certain groups of employees feel especially affected by the lack of progress in this space. The end result is that employees who could benefit from DEI&B programs aren’t experiencing the benefits.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There’s an opportunity here for employers to focus on changing corporate culture to bridge this disconnect. And, it appears that the best way to make a difference is to start with employees’ direct supervisors—with additional training to foster cultural competence, tying performance goals to DEI&B initiatives, and naming program champions to help embed these cultural changes in an organization.

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