DEI trends 2023: reviewing the year gone by

Blog posts

10 Jan 2024

Meenakshi Krishnan

Meenakshi Krishnan, Principal Research Fellow

DEI must DIE! Long live DEI!

Did you ever expect to see a world where ideas like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are considered moral corruption or causing harm? Recent events and pronouncements would have us believe so.

Seizing the historic moment after George Floyd’s death in 2020, DEI policies, people and strategies went from being mere buzzwords to a serious organisational agenda – marrying the goals of social justice with business performance and sustainability. But as we review the year gone by it seems momentum has slowed, politicisation and polarisation have taken centre stage, and DEI fatigue is setting in.

Understanding the past is one way of equipping ourselves to deal with the future. In this post, I share the top 5 DEI trends that have punctuated the DEI landscape in 2023.

1: Widening the lens from protection to wellbeing  

Leaders have understood that the benefits of DEI go beyond just legal compliance to securing happy, productive workplaces and ‘good work’ for all. Nine protected characteristics of identity have been the cornerstone of DEI efforts in the workplace since the UK Equality Act 2010. These include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic though, new dimensions of workers’ lives became a growing concern for DEI officers across workplaces. IES research has delivered valuable perspectives to employers on widening participation and employment for carers, for older workers, for single parents and shared parenting, for persons with long-term health conditions, for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, for tackling workplace weight discrimination, for refugee employment to name a few. The diversity focus has resoundingly shifted towards an inclusion focus for many employers. 

2: Growing recognition of neuroinclusion and social mobility

A significant expansion of DEI programmes has been to promote diversity of thought. Neurodivergence is the variation among individuals in cognitive abilities and mental functions – thinking and learning styles – due to underlying neurological conditions. An estimated 15-20% of the UK population are considered to be neurodiverse. A reliance on talent, not diagnosis allows employers to leverage strengths and creativity of neurodiverse individuals, supporting everyone to succeed in the workplace.

In a similar vein, social class origins matter in the workplace. Conditions of birth and upbringing such as family income, parents’ educational attainment or occupation can have a lasting impact on individuals’ ability to enter and succeed in the workplace. The UK has one of the worst rates of social mobility in the developed world. IES research for the Social Mobility Commission has expanded awareness, empathy, and employee support for people from disadvantaged class backgrounds. 

3: Using data to drive DEI efforts

‘What gets measured, gets done’ is an old management adage that bears repeating. Successful DEI practitioners have learnt that diversity data is really the first step towards crafting an effective DEI strategy. The second step of course is interpreting that data to draw meaningful conclusions and behavioural changes that promote an inclusive future for work. Absence of diversity metrics implies your DEI strategy is just a shot in the dark. Organisations vary in collecting and reporting simple diversity metrics on age, gender, race, ethnicity, and citizenship to tracking nuanced data across critical processes like hiring, promotions, or retention by division, region, department, and manager. Good quality data needs a climate of trust, transparency and self-disclosure to be cultivated.

4: Appreciation of intersectionality

The concept of intersectionality recognises that human beings occupy multiple social locations simultaneously and are shaped by the interaction of different social categories e.g., race/ ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, disability/ability, migration status, religion, indigeneity. Each identity marker creates inclusion or exclusion in and of itself but exacerbates disadvantage when multiple layers intersect. To illustrate , obesity stigma in employment is especially acute for women. DEI leaders are waking up to the reality that pressing individual levers of diversity cannot bring about change without an intersectional understanding. Opportunities include gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting, designing flexible workplaces, and supporting workers with multiple disadvantages to progress internally. 

5: Growing backlash and negative press for DEI

A growing cacophony of voices have sought to systematically undermine and undo years of effort towards building more welcoming and equitable workplaces. These have ranged from US legislation against affirmative action in higher education, a spate of resignations of senior women leaders from Harvard and University of Pennsylvania, corporate leaders ringing a death knell for DEI, and the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer threatening to axe thousands of DEI jobs in the civil service. Global tech leaders like Google and Meta have cut back spending on DEI programs. Though some argue DEI is not only surviving, but thriving, things could slide fast if the economic downturn deepens and budgets get slashed.

The emerging climate of opposition and backlash in some quarters to DEI efforts means that more than ever the DEI community needs to refocus its efforts and build an evidence base to support change. Just as no experience in life ever goes to waste, DEI professionals have taken many positive steps forward, and still there is lots more to do. What will 2024 look like?

What have been your experiences and challenges in navigating the fraught socio-political landscape of DEI in your organisation? What would you like to see or hope to achieve in 2024? Drop me a line at, tell me what you think and we can include your thoughts and ideas in the upcoming post on trends for 2024!

This blog is the first of a two-part series. Part two on ‘DEI trends 2024: preparing for the year ahead’ is available here.

Other blogs by the same author: Why does the gender pay gap persist? A Nobel Prize winning answer

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.