By now, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) should be more than just a buzzword for companies. And, on the surface, it looks like progress is being made.
For example, LinkedIn data shows there has been a 71% increase in worldwide D&I roles in the past five years.
But while many companies and HR leaders would agree that DEI is important, around 80% of companies are just going through the motions and not holding themselves accountable when it comes to DEI initiatives.
At Sunny Day Fund, we hold to the belief that sustainable DEI change requires both commitment and deliberate action; closing the gap to turn the intangible into actionable DEI initiatives and supporting equity and fairness in the workplace.
The gap with DEI initiatives
For example, eighty-one percent of organizations say they are focused on improving diversity and inclusion. However, only 42% of the U.S. companies surveyed have publicly documented commitments to racial or ethnic equality.
This problem stems from the fact that employers treat DEI efforts as unrewarded peripheral work rather than core, merit-worthy initiatives. These initiatives – such as well-being programs and creating DEI positions – look good on paper, but it’s often easy to miss the real disparities or measure success of initiatives.
The glaring racial wealth gap is an example of the disconnect with DEI initiatives. It manifests itself with employers and their savings benefits. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2021 Retirement Confidence Survey: A Closer Look at Black and Hispanic Americans, participation in retirement savings is roughly the same across race/ethnicity and income.
But the same study also reveals that actual total savings and investments are very different between different racial demographics.
Forty-five percent of all low-and-median-income workers have less than $1,000 in savings, which is problematic. But the situation is even worse for Black and Hispanic Americans, and doesn’t improve at the same rate as other demographics (even with higher incomes).
Similarly, the Federal Reserve finds that, on average, White families have eight times the wealth of Black families and five times the wealth of Hispanic families.
And, according to Sunny Day Fund research, part of this disparity is explained by most people’s need for accessible money, which is tougher with traditional employee offerings like 401(k), 403(b), and Roths. All of these offerings carry restrictions, varying levels of penalties and fees, and administrative access difficulties.
You also see this story play out with emergency savings. EBRI, Pew Research, AARP Research, and so many others have uncovered that minorities have far greater difficulty handling financial emergencies (largely due to little to no emergency savings).
Unfortunately, current DEI initiatives aren’t yet addressing DEI issues like the wealth gap. In fact, according to social benefit organization Prosper Bridge, most financial wellness programs are unintentionally racist.
Organizations have taken key steps in recognizing DEI as a priority and elevating dedicated leadership to DEI initiatives, but those initiatives need to be linked back to measurable impact.
Take action with these financial DEI initiatives
Operationalize your commitment to DEI by creating initiatives that are actionable, measurable, and evidence-based so that you make data-driven decisions to prioritize what works.
We recommend prioritizing financial inclusion. Financial initiatives are powerful catalysts for advancing racial equity and systemic change.
Here are three actionable, financially-driven DEI initiatives that can help you help your employees.
DEI initiative #1: Consider your employees’ opinions about their financial well-being.
The core concept behind DEI is that everyone has a voice.
“You’re not going to get the benefits of diversity, like more robust decision making and innovation, unless you actually have a culture where people can speak up,” says Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global’s deputy CEO and chief people and purpose officer.
Despite this fact, only 38% of organizations review engagement survey responses by race or ethnicity to understand any differences in experience.
Close the feedback loop and involve employees in financial well-being and other DEI solutions you’re trying to provide. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Avoid a “top-down” approach when it comes to DEI. This approach doesn’t foster a culture of commitment when leaders are telling employees what to do.
- Incorporate conversations around DEI budget and resources into entire-executive meetings and share what efforts are being made with HR.
- Introduce engagement surveys and scores such as financial well-being surveys, which we offer at Sunny Day Fund, that measure the employee experience across diversity and inclusion factors. Share with employees how this information will be used and follow through.
Also, hold senior leaders (including CEOs) accountable for DEI outcomes instead of HR managers and ensure that they’re involved with behavior-based DEI training.
These efforts pay dividends. According to an Achievers study, almost 90% of employees say there’s a high level of inclusion at companies where there’s a strong culture of recognition.
DEI initiative #2: Offer emergency savings as a benefit.
Things like 401(k) personalization and investing access are critical to DEI efforts, but in order for employees to reach longer-term financial goals, they must first lay a solid emergency savings foundation.
And emergency saving benefits are what people overwhelmingly support, which builds on initiative #1. According to AARP Research, 9 in 10 working adults support emergency savings as a benefit.
This also makes sense on a holistic program level, where you can break down barriers to access and participation for employees who crave a stepping stone to retirement savings.
The support for workplace emergency savings programs is consistent across demographic groups, no matter the gender, income, age, or race/ethnicity.
“Where else do we get that level of consensus in the present-day world?” asks Sid Pailla, CEO of Sunny Day Fund.
To meet this request, enable direct-from-employer contributions into an FDIC-insured savings account for individual employees.
For example, at Sunny Day Fund, we help employers with simple payroll set up to allow automated employee and employer contributions into a standalone FDIC-insured savings account with no minimums or penalties. Better yet, it removes friction and reduces fear of access with fast, penalty-free, and stress-free withdrawals.
This employee benefit has proven success. $50 is the typical employee contribution per paycheck, with balances exceeding $400 after just four months.
The takeaway: accessible money and cash flow matter to your financially underserved employees and an emergency savings program is one way to level the playing field.
DEI initiative #3: Reward savings behavior and outcomes.
Give meaningful economic incentives for individuals who want to build emergency savings by enabling them to earn rewards for their saving contributions and balances.
“From a systemic and behavioral economics perspective,” Pailla says, “there has been no economic incentive for anyone to save for emergencies before now because the market interest rates have been close to zero for almost 15 years. So other than fear, there was no real economic motivation. What if employers can be a part of the source of that incentive, enabling the underserved or underbanked to build liquid wealth?”
Sunny Day Fund enables employers to do exactly that with customizable, quarterly rewards into employees’ standalone FDIC-insured savings accounts, reinforcing resilient savings behavior. Employers typically invest $150-$600 per year per employee based on configuration, including rewards, taxes, and fees.
So how are organizations funding their reward contributions? One way, according to Sunny Day Fund research, is that about a third of employers may be sitting on accessible excess cash reserves from their self-funded health insurance plans. “And let’s not forget that lots of companies have made a commitment to match retirement savings, but as the data shows, that match is, unfortunately, being left on the table by low and median-income employees,” he says.
With this initial investment, companies are also estimated to realize savings themselves due to better retention, productivity, and well-being. For example, a company using Sunny Day Fund experienced a roughly 20% higher retention rate compared to industry peers, which is remarkable, especially in this tight labor market.
Finally, measure engagement. “From the employer perspective, if we’re viewing inclusion and equity as the ways that we want to engage employees, we have to get to a point where everyone participates,” Pailla says.
Rewarding all employees financially and equitably for saving any amount, large or small, is a way to make workers of all income levels feel included and invested in the success of their organization.
Take deliberate action to support DEI
Making workforce financial well-being a priority is an opportunity to walk the walk with DEI, proving to stakeholders that you both understand and champion diversity, equity, and inclusion outcomes.
Learn more about how Sunny Day Fund is committed to helping ALL 152 million hardworking Americans achieve financial well-being starting with emergency savings, and how you can use our program to bridge the financial well-being gap within your organization.
Reach out to us firstname.lastname@example.org today and discover our customizable employer-sponsored savings programs.