Has corporate America reached a diversity tipping point?

By Stephanie Tonneson

Short-term vs. long-term investment in corporate diversity

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death, our nation’s collective unrest over racial injustice has skyrocketed. Individuals, establishments, and communities are, one by one, being reexamined, their contributions to the cause being carefully dissected. Many businesses are asking the same question: How can we help?

Initially, companies’ contributions typically include donations, relevant posts on social media, and educational events for employees — all things that can, indeed, help the cause. At the same time, the fight to end systemic racism is not unique to this moment; it is a movement, and no one-time contribution will suffice.

In light of this, companies are slowly coming to terms with not only what they need to say today, but also what they need to do in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Since 2010, there has been exponential growth in one essential area: hiring. New data from ZoomInfo shows that over the last five years, there has been a 113% increase in execs with diversity and inclusion titles, and nearly 40% of Fortune 500 companies have on-boarded an executive focused on the issue. Will this be a turning point for companies large and small to not only pay lip service to social causes, but also to ensure they’re supporting those causes with the human capital necessary for sustained change?

Hiring Diversity Executives is a long-term investment

While the day-to-day responsibilities of this job are broad and may vary depending on the industry and the company, most Diversity Executives oversee internal diversity-related programs, foster a general sense of comradery among employees, and take measures to assure that minorities within the community feel supported.

Of how the role might apply to the COVID-19 crisis, for example, Maxine Williams, Facebook’s Chief Diversity Officer, says, “The pandemic is not agnostic to issues of power, privilege, or equity… This is a clear example of the very issues that diversity and inclusion initiatives are designed to address.”

Despite this, according to ZoomInfo’s analysis of 60 million professionals in its database, only 39.4% of Fortune 500 companies have a Diversity Executive as of Q1 in 2020.

Figure 1: Around 39.4% of Fortune 500 companies have a Diversity Executive as of Q1 in 2020. Source: ZoomInfo.

On the flip side, though, 60.6% is not an overwhelming majority, and as more and more companies take this step forward, the pressure on the companies without diversity functions in leadership positions only continues to increase.

Taking a step back to look at this data over time — for all companies, not just Fortune 500 — tells an even more compelling story.

ZoomInfo’s database also shows that, up until 2010, there were less than 500 new hires with the words “diversity” or “inclusivity” (D&I) in their title. That number quickly grows, however, doubling over the next four years and doubling again in the next two.

Figure 2: Fewer than 500 companies had employees with the words “diversity” or “inclusivity” (D&I) in their title up until 2010. Later years, specifically 2015–2016, saw the number of actively employed with D&I in the title jump from 1,000 to 1,500. Source: ZoomInfo.

Within a historical context, we can assume that the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage (2015) influenced the increase shown in recent years, specifically between 2015–2016, during which the number of new hires with D&I in their title jumped from approximately 1,000 to 1,500.

Hopefully, recent protests will have a similar effect.

Is this progress?

It’s true — the numbers here are small. 2,000+ diversity executives isn’t that many new hires, considering how many companies (14 million) are housed within the ZoomInfo database. It is important to note, however, that small companies make up a large portion of that number, and they may not have the budget to allocate towards the creation of an entire new role.

For Fortune 500 companies, though less than half have someone with D&I in their title, over 70% of those that responded to the most recent equity report have non-discrimination policies, domestic partners benefits, transgender-inclusive befits, and organizational commitments to LGBTQ causes.

All things considered, the progress made within corporate America may be happening at a pace that’s slower than ideal, but it is happening. As history has shown, the more momentum a movement gains in our social spheres, the more likely it is for our professional ones to follow suit.

Stephanie Tonneson is a content writer & storyteller at ZoomInfo, serving you people-driven insights from the latest data & trends.

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