The State of DEI in SMEs

"Today, it's more difficult than ever for CEOs and HR leaders at small and medium organizations to compete for talent, customers, and investment dollars," says Sonya Sepahban, OurOffice CEO. Over half of the US workforce actively plans to leave their jobs, and 80% of them prioritize inclusion and belonging in their search for a new employer. Moreover, inclusive organizations are six (6) times more likely to be innovative and three (3) times more likely to retain talent. Meanwhile, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) do not have access to relevant data or benchmarks to help them better understand where they are compared to their peers and competitors and where to focus their efforts most.

The report on the State of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in SMEs by OurOffice is the first ever to provide a comprehensive assessment, specifically focused on organizations with less than 2,500 employees. For example, one of the key insights is that over 90% of CEOs at SMEs have personally advocated for DEI initiatives; however, only 63% of those organizations have a documented strategy for DEI, and shockingly few (only 22%) of those organizations assign goals and measure the progress of their DEI strategy or goals.

The average score for the companies surveyed indicates they are in the "Focused" stage of their DEI efforts. This means they are aware of the benefits of DEI and are working towards setting goals for their organizations to see improvement in their workplaces. Interestingly, when asked to estimate their DEI stage, about half either overestimated or underestimated it, indicating the importance of a rigorous assessment process to better understand where an organization is in their DEI journey and the specific areas that they need to focus on.

OurOffice shared these results with a group of HR and DEI experts to get their thoughts on the survey results. Roselle Rogers, VP of DEI at Circa connected the dots across the survey results, "There is a clear disconnect between wanting to support DEI work and actually taking action towards it. Many are not implementing a strategy to operationalize it, which is a big problem. The results also indicate that there is an issue with selling the DEI business case internally because 66% of people say that resources are an issue."

Indeed, since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, DEI efforts have become a top priority for many organizations; however, many companies have yet to go beyond the diversity statements released two years ago. Taking action on companies' DEI statements is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each organization must take a focused, data-driven approach to understand the needs of their workplace and identify critical objectives to take action. HR professional Diane Turek Pire, Partner at Boyden, a premiere leadership solutions and talent advisory firm, shared that it is essential to look at all dimensions of diversity. "It is important to know what diversity means to the organization and what is needed for a specific team. For example, in some circumstances, a male candidate will bring needed diversity to a mostly female team. It’s about complementing the existing makeup of a group, so there is diverse representation.”

The survey results show that the top challenges for most companies are limited resources, employee engagement, and knowing what to measure. Overwhelmingly, almost 70% of organizations surveyed cite limited resources for DEI as the central area of concern, which means lack of budget and personnel to support the work. Kelly Shafer, a veteran HR professional and Account Executive at Circa, was not surprised by the survey results, "There is always a lot of talk with DEI. People like to host training and they think it’s enough, but we know it's not. There is a big gap in the process between organizations that just started caring about DEI, to transitioning into an organization where DEI is a part of their company culture".

Findings from the survey also show that many organizations find it challenging to engage everyone in the company DEI efforts; 54% of the companies who responded share that gaining buy-in from all employees, not just those from underrepresented populations in DEI efforts, is challenging. Diane shared, "If they listened to the needs of the employees, DEI would be woven into the culture of the company, and engagement would not be an issue."

Measuring the success of the DEI efforts implemented by the organizations is often difficult. Over half of the respondents agreed that they do not know what matters most when measuring DEI efforts. Many only have basic workforce representation and hiring metrics, which are inadequate to identify root cause(s) and corrective action(s). For example, while 81% of organizations say that they use a diversity focused talent source, only 37% indicate that their organization requires a diverse candidate slate.

Mike Kohn, Vice President of People at Kevel, shared, "Prioritizing 'diversity' in general in the hiring process is hard because sometimes to build that diverse candidate slate takes time. It requires difficult conversations and thinking through what the organization needs. Everyone wants diversity, but what does that mean? Does it mean expanding the population of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, veterans, etc.? What are we really measuring and why? It's important to start there before embarking on a search so you know how to make an impact and advance progress in this arena."

Best practices are also evolving as expectations shift and there is better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Kelly added, “The Rooney Rule is not enough. I think there should be two or more underrepresented candidates on the interview slate. Another issue is about who is doing the interviewing? Making sure the interviewer slate is diverse is also important because if no one looks like the candidate who is interviewing, then they probably won’t want to join the company.”

Overall, this report finds a tension between what SMEs aspire to achieve when promoting DEI efforts within their organizations and the work happening to improve workplace culture and employee experiences. Kelly summed up the ultimate goal that many organizations want, "most people agree that DEI is important, but who really knows what that means? It's about the impact of DEI efforts. We want a great workplace culture where all employees feel like they belong and the organization is a great place to work.”

To read more about the OurOffice State of DEI report, please visit,

To subscribe to future reports on the State of DEI in Small and Medium Enterprises, please email

To find out your own organization's DEI rating and key scores, please click on this link:

To learn more about this article or other workplace culture and DEI-related topics, please click the button below. Learn More