(Bloomberg) -- At Twitter, the diversity, equity and inclusion team is down to just two people from 30, one former employee said. A DEI worker who was let go from a popular ride-share company said their job search has stalled as other technology companies assess their finances. And just before getting the axe at separate tech giants this fall, two DEI specialists said leadership had stopped setting long-term goals for their departments entirely.
The layoffs sweeping the technology industry are gutting diversity and inclusion departments, threatening company pledges to boost underrepresented groups in their ranks and leadership.
Listings for DEI roles were down 19% last year — a bigger decline than legal or general human resources jobs saw, according to findings from Textio, which helps companies create unbiased job ads. Only software engineering and data science jobs saw larger declines, at 24% and 27%, respectively.
Bloomberg News identified DEI professionals who lost their jobs in recent weeks at Amazon.com Inc., Meta Platforms Inc., Twitter Inc. and Redfin Corp. Many said they expect their responsibilities will go to former colleagues who remain or to employee resource groups, which often don’t get compensated for that work.
A spokesperson for Amazon said the company’s DEI priorities haven’t changed and the company remains committed to its goals. A Redfin spokesperson said the company has invested in growing its DEI team since 2021, and despite a recent layoff the group is larger than it was at the start of 2022. A representative for Meta declined to comment.
“I’m cautiously concerned — not that these roles will go to zero but that there will be a spike in ‘Swiss army knife’ type roles,” meaning more DEI professionals will be spread thin as they take on additional job functions, said Textio Chief Executive Officer Kieran Snyder. The phenomenon isn’t likely limited to tech, either, as layoffs hit other parts of the economy. Last year, companies announced plans to cut over 363,000 jobs, up 13% from 2021.
Recent years have seen a diversity and inclusion hiring boom. After Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, organizations of all stripes made promises to boost gender and racial diversity in their ranks. Dozens brought in their first ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers. In the three months after George Floyd’s murder, DEI job postings jumped 123%, according to data from jobs site Indeed.
Now, just as tech companies had started to make progress, they’re scaling back those teams before fully meeting goals or creating workforces that look like the broader US population. Meta Chief Diversity Officer Maxine Williams warned last summer that cost cutting would slow its diversity hiring efforts.
“Cutting DEI oriented staff now, unless you’ve made really progress and can say ‘mission accomplished’ is not a good look,” said Angie Kamath, dean at the NYU School of Professional Studies, who focuses on workforce development. “There are some real risks.”
In some cases, companies might even backslide, said Monne Williams, an Atlanta-based partner at McKinsey & Company.
Workers are more likely to leave companies where equity efforts aren’t a priority. Nearly one in five female leaders have left a job in the past two years because of a company’s lack of commitment to DEI, according to an October report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org. In a 2019 survey of 2,000 workers, McKinsey found that 39% decided against pursuing or accepting a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at a company.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion can’t be a thing that you only do when times are good,” Williams said. “If it becomes a flavor of the week, then companies will lose out on talent.”
Partly at issue is that companies tend to lean on a “last in, first out” approach to layoffs, said Brooks Scott, founder and CEO of executive coaching firm Merging Path Coaching. “Companies have rushed to think of the bottom line, but whenever we try to optimize for speed, we’re probably going to skip over diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Instead, he said companies should consider race, gender and ethnicity when deciding who to let go.
In addition, organizations confronting slimmed down DEI departments don’t have to abandon goals altogether, said Julie Coffman, the chief diversity officer at consulting firm Bain & Co. The decisions to hire, promote and foster talented people lie across departments.
“The actual job of delivering real progress on DEI outcomes does not reside in a central chief diversity officer or small DEI team alone,” she said.
(The number of job cuts announced in 2022 was added to paragraph six. Corrects timing of Maxine Williams statement in paragraph eight.)
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