Growing political unrest and economic volatility have had a significant impact on the global workplace in 2023 – and as a result the role organisations play in society is shifting.
“More than ever, workers are looking to their employers to be a resource and expect them to respond to inequities and injustices around the world,” says Karyn Twaronite, EY Global Vice Chair – Diversity, Equity & Inclusiveness, in an exclusive interview with Sustainability magazine.
“This means that employers have a heightened responsibility towards their workforce to build an inclusive culture where people are seen, valued, and appreciated for all their unique differences.”
As Global VC for DE&I at EY, Karyn is responsible for driving innovations that maximise the strength and effectiveness of the firm’s diverse workforce of almost 400,000 people across 150 countries in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEIA).
She is also a member of the EY Global Practice Group leadership team and the EY Global Talent Committee.
Looking to the year ahead, Karyn predicts that the most significant challenge businesses will face is staying committed to longer-term, sustainable DE&I strategies.
We sit down with Karyn to discuss her thoughts on what 2024 may bring on the DE&I front – the challenges and opportunities and strategies businesses should take to ensure diversity and inclusion remains core to company culture.
There has been talk of an EX recession with DE&I programmes seeing disinvestment. What areas of DE&I do you expect to see cutbacks and what areas can we expect to see continued innovation and investment?
Yes, a few companies may be divesting. However, I wouldn’t allow the actions of a select few to inform your company’s strategic business view or opinion of the greater landscape.
DE&I is here to stay. In fact, EY’s Belonging Barometer 3.0 indicates that it has become an important factor in choosing an employer, with 73% of Generation Z and 68% of Millennials actively choosing to work at firms which prioritise DE&I.
In the year ahead, we anticipate seeing more investment in technology that can advance inclusion and accessibility in the workplace. One example is AI-powered Large Language Models (LLMs) that can be trained to remove biased language in job listings to ensure that historically underrepresented groups, such as people with disabilities, are not dissuaded or discouraged from applying for a role.
One area that I sincerely hope will not suffer from disinvestment is the recruitment and CEO support of tenured highly skilled DE&I professionals. High turnover in these roles due to disappointing levels of commitment and support can have a detrimental effect on business results and employee sentiment – including how employees view their company’s commitment to diversity and can contribute to a general loss of confidence in their employer.
Right now, there remains market demand for specialised DE&I skills, something I am confident will continue into 2024.
There has always been a business case for ensuring diverse and inclusive workforces – but in the age of AI, do you consider this more important than ever?
As AI comes of age and becomes more widely used across society, the importance of developing ethical and responsible frameworks is paramount, otherwise there is a risk that AI could exacerbate existing inequalities in the workplace.
AI tools should be audited for biases before implementation. Employers also need to ensure that a wide range of stakeholders from different demographics are involved in developing and evaluating AI programmes so that this technology can be rolled out with intention.
Upskilling employees who may be displaced by AI is also essential to building equity in the workplace. Equipping potentially affected employees with opportunities to learn critical AI skills will allow them to transition into new roles that offer purpose and advancement.
When it comes to employee experience – work-life balance, wellness, and personal development has become as important, if not more, as being adequately remunerated. How do you see this developing in 2024?
Wellbeing initiatives do not – and should not – benefit one specific demographic. Fostering an inclusive work environment benefits all workers.
At EY, we consider the employee experience across four categories: mental and emotional, physical, financial, and social. Individuals prioritise these in their own ways, so leaders must treat each category as being of equal importance.
It’s incredibly rewarding to see the impact that this can have. For instance, through our employee assistance programme in the US, when we increased the number of no-cost counselling and mental health coaching sessions and doubled back-up child and adult dependent care for employees, the response was overwhelming.
There’s no doubt that employees value efforts to improve their working experience and I only see this trend continuing in the year ahead.
Worker burnout is an issue among employees – do you see this escalating in 2024 and what measures can businesses take to mitigate burnout?
This has been a challenging year for many, and people are feeling burnout across all aspects of their lives, including work. Ignoring this isn’t an option. Companies should continue investing in providing resources and emotional support to ensure that their workforce does not feel isolated.
But, beyond that, there are smaller ways to make a difference that don’t cost a thing.
In 2024, I’d like to see more senior leaders establish a culture of checking-in on their teams. This is a simple action – a brief email, text, or call – that everyone can do to foster authentic connections with their colleagues.
EY’s Belonging Barometer 3.0 found that 32% of workers feel a greater sense of belonging at work when they’re checked in on by colleagues. Establishing these open lines of communication can be effective in combatting isolation and forging deeper bonds, helping to prevent burnout and foster a sense of camaraderie.
Finally, return-to-office mandates have accelerated in 2023. What are your predictions for this in 2024?
Despite some companies pushing hard for RTO, hybrid work is here to stay. This is the clear preference for many workers, with two or three days of remote work per week being the most popular choice (37%), according to EY’s 2023 Work Reimagined Survey.
My advice to leaders is to listen to employees and not take a one-size-fits-all approach. Flexibility is the future – it contributes to a sense of belonging and even if the desire to return to office is well-intentioned, it may leave some workers feeling unheard.
Plus, as technology advances further, hybrid working processes will become even more seamless.