Workplace Equality Index Survey: U.S. Businesses Leaned in to Diversity in 2019

For close to two decades, Segall Bryant & Hamill has screened companies on their workplace equality policies through our Workplace Equality Index®1. We believe companies that treat all of their employees with dignity, respect and equality provide better shareholder returns over the long run. As part of our screening, and in order to stay abreast of the trends in workplace equality, we periodically conduct surveys of public companies that meet the criteria for inclusion in the Workplace Equality Index. Respondents include employees, employee resource group members, and human resources and diversity and inclusion (D&I) officers. In 2019, we sent surveys to more than 1,300 employees nationwide and received a 26% response rate (i.e., 331 responses).

Many people believe that corporate America leads social change, rather than the public sector, and the results of our 2019 survey indicate that corporate America is continuing to focus on making improvements in fostering diversity and inclusion. We see companies overwhelmingly leaning in to foster a more inclusive and welcoming workplace, according to the employees we surveyed.

When senior management embraces diversity and inclusion at a company, it sends a powerful message. In the 2019 survey period, 89% of respondents agreed that senior leaders at their company support diversity and inclusion as a core corporate value.

Senior leaders understand that a company’s cultural focus on diversity and inclusion is becoming an important differentiator for both prospective customers and employees. This is corroborated by a recent Deloitte survey showing 80% of prospective employees feel D&I is an important factor in choosing an employer and 72% of full-time employees would leave an organization for one they thought was more inclusive2. In today’s ultra-low unemployment environment, companies cannot afford to lose employees due to their lack of diversity and inclusion efforts. However, some survey respondents in the banking, communications and health care industries felt that their companies were not leaning in to foster diversity and inclusion. We will monitor the trends in these industries and companies in future surveys.

Businesses that embrace diversity and inclusion understand there is a Return on Equality®3—diversity leads to higher return on investment. While companies that invest in their human capital support this concept, our survey shows that they could do a better job communicating their support to employees.

Less than half of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the proposition that their company primarily focuses on the business case when discussing the importance of diversity and inclusion. Industries in which we saw disagreement with this statement included auto manufacturers, utilities, cable and health care companies. On a brighter note, we received very positive feedback on this question from industrial, consumer products, and financial services firms. Companies in the materials sector (from chemical companies to mining companies) which historically have not wholly embraced diversity and inclusion, reported positive responses on their progress on equality. The lack of clear-cut business case focus by companies comes as a surprise to us given a recent PWC survey showing that 87% of global public company CEOs view diversity as a business priority4. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation also recently concluded that companies with LGBT-inclusive policies have higher employee retention rates and earn more revenue5.

The final question in our 2019 survey concerned bathroom signage, especially in high-rise buildings where making changes to floor plans is not always practical. Our respondents indicated there is more work to be done on bathroom signage at the corporate level.

The original impetus behind creating the Workplace Equality Index was to demonstrate the business case for treating all employees with dignity, respect and equality. In the ensuing years, we have witnessed growing acceptance by the business community of this notion of Return on Equality® – the idea that diversity and inclusion policies have a positive financial return for stakeholders in a company. The 2019 Workplace Equality Index survey reinforces Segall Bryant & Hamill’s view that diversity and inclusion are important corporate values, not only to our firm, but to corporate America as a whole.

About the survey.

Segall Bryant & Hamill’s Workplace Equality Index has tracked stock performance of equality-minded companies since 2001. Part of our screening methodology involves surveying employees at public companies. The survey responses are anonymous and kept in strict confidentiality. If you would like to participate in next year’s survey, please email jroberts@workplaceequalityindex.com. We would also like to thank Dr. Katina Sawyer, Assistant Professor of Management at the George Washington University School of Business for her collaboration on this year’s survey.

1Workplace Equality Index® is a registered trademark of Segall Bryant & Hamill.

²Deloitte, “Seventy-Two Percent of Working Americans Surveyed Would or May Consider Leaving an Organization for One They Think is More Inclusive, Deloitte Poll Finds,” news release, June 7, 2017. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/press-releases/inclusion-survey.html

3Return on Equality® is a registered trademark of Out Leadership used with permission.

4Global diversity and inclusion survey https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/people-organisation/global-diversity-and-inclusion-survey.html.

5U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation “Business Success and Growth Through LGBT-Inclusive Culture” April 9, 2019 https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/sites/default/files/Chamber-Inclusion-00o-compressed.pdf.

Figures in the charts may not add to 100% due to rounding. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only without regard to any particular reader’s investment objectives, risk tolerances or financial situation and does not constitute investment advice, nor should it be considered a solicitation or offering to investors.