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Bringing the data together: What the public perception of the NFL can teach us about DEI

Bringing the data together: What the public perception of the NFL can teach us about DEI

The NFL has a long and complicated relationship with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and race. To prepare for Sunday’s big game, our research team asked a few questions about it to get a sense of the public sentiment. In a survey of 7,590 people across the US, one particular finding stuck out:

A surprising 22% think the NFL has done “too much” to support Black players, while 37% think it’s done “just enough,” and 34% of people said that they don’t think the NFL has done enough.* Among Black people—the only group truly affected by the question—that last number, "not enough," was 54% . The disconnect is clear.

What does it mean when there’s such a difference of perception? When one group’s experience is not understood by the people around them—or worse, the organizations they work for? It sets up an interesting lesson about equity and perception.

You'll never know what your employees need if you don't ask. But the more you understand the nuances, the better your workplace culture will be.

The people making the decisions and the people living them don’t see eye-to-eye

It isn’t surprising that people who don’t personally experience racism and the people who do have different perspectives, but it is important that everyone involved understands that there is a disconnect. Many don’t.

That kind of misalignment of perspectives isn’t, of course, limited to the NFL. Momentive recently ran a business study that uncovered a similar kind of dissonance between leaders and the people who report to them. Here are just a few of those findings:

  • Only 30% of white managers believed that their diverse employees felt pressure to change aspects of their behavior or appearance to fit in at work—while almost 50% of Latinx workers reported that they did. 
  • While almost 80% of leaders thought diverse employees had “professional allies,” only 61% of Latinx, 63% of Black, and 62% of multi-racial employees agreed.
  • Less than 30% of white managers think employees worry that reporting discrimination would have negative repurcussions for them, but almost half of Asian employees did.

Leaders have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the people who report to them, but many don’t really understand what those interests are. 

Prioritizing DEI matters to employees

It isn’t just that you lose employees when you don’t prioritize DEI; it’s also that you win them over when you do. 

Recent research suggests a link between DEI and the way that workers feel about their jobs. Companies that emphasize DEI have higher employee satisfaction ratings, and 78% of employees say that it’s important to work for an organization that prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion. Those values resonate.

In fact, even the people who felt that their company “did too much” when it came to DEI were still happier at their jobs than people who worked for a company that didn’t prioritize DEI. This suggests two different possibilities: one is that people who think their employer’s DEI efforts are “over the top” still subconsciously appreciate those efforts. The other is that they simply don’t hold it against the company. 

In other words, no one becomes unhappy at work because their company cares too much. This brings us back to those 22% of people from the beginning of the article who said that they felt the NFL had done “too much” to show respect for its Black players. Those people were mostly not from the affected group, and unlikely to be heavily invested in the issue. And, when it came down to it, they were all planning to sit down and watch the game. 

The opposite is rarely true—especially when it comes to the workplace. If employees don’t feel they are respected, they won’t stick around. When they see their values mirrored, they will. Some of the country's most desirable employers are also the ones who have put a stake in the ground about DEI.

In the current atmosphere, even the most considerate leaders can be paralyzed by the fear of saying the wrong thing, but that concern is misplaced. They don’t have to be perfect—they just have to be willing to ask questions about their employees' true experiences and, even more importantly, to listen. 

*Percentages don’t add up to 100% on questions where not all participants chose to answer.

We launched Workplace Equity IQ to help organizations get a real, genuine understanding of their employees’ experiences to address these types of disconnects.