Skip to main content

As a 30-something Black American millennial with 18 years in the workforce, including 10 years of experience as an HR and DEI lead, I’ve navigated my career through several seismic shifts, each shaping the working landscape into an unfamiliar terrain. Starting with the Great Recession as I graduated high school, followed by the socio-political upheavals of Occupy Wall Street, the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, and most recently, the COVID pandemic and the 2020 protests for racial justice. These events, in some way, have been challenging yet instrumental in bringing about flickers of hope for improved representation and equity for marginalized folks in the workplace. It was the Black Lives Matter movement, in particular, that catalyzed my transition into becoming a social impact entrepreneur focused on bridging the racial wealth gap and the digital divide.

Yet, now, as we stand on the brink of another recession, a new challenge emerges – a widespread exodus from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) roles, catalyzed by a combination of economic strains and deep-rooted and under-resourced systemic issues within organizations.

The Silent Exodus

My LinkedIn dashboard has become a digital reflection of a troubling reality: posts about layoffs and once exciting career updates are now replaced with countless ‘open for work’ declarations. The comments under these posts are a mixture of support, frustration, and encouragement, revealing a community grappling with self-doubt, confusion, and sometimes hope, mirrored in one another’s experiences.

The data paints a somber picture: The recent layoffs reflect a significant shortfall, disproportionately affecting historically marginalized groups, including Black, women, and queer individuals. These individuals, often employed in fields like recruitment, DEI, operations, or HR, are facing a higher impact in the ongoing layoffs, highlighting a troubling pattern of exclusion.

For instance, in the tech industry, a class action lawsuit against Twitter highlighted that 57% of women in the workforce were laid off, compared to 47% of men. [2] This disproportionate impact on women and historically marginalized groups is prevalent in industries where they are often in more vulnerable positions, such as non-technical roles like sales, HR, and customer support.

This, though historically not surprising, brings a renewed sense of disappointment, especially in light of the DEI manifestos and commitments made in 2020 that now seem to have stalled.

Whether by will or by circumstance, the reasons for the silent exodus of DEI practitioners are plenty:

  1. Lack of Support and Resources: Many DEI professionals report feeling isolated in their roles, with inadequate support from their organizations. This lack of backing, both in terms of resources and executive buy-in, can lead to frustration and disillusionment.
  2. Emotional and Mental Toll: The emotionally taxing nature of DEI work, without proper mental health support, often leads to burnout.
  3. Limited Career Growth: There is a perception of limited career paths for DEI professionals, with few opportunities for advancement into leadership roles, leading to discouragement among those seeking long-term career development.
  4. Disillusionment with Corporate DEI Efforts: The initial motivation for DEI initiatives during the 2020 racial justice movements has waned, leading to disillusionment among DEI professionals with the performative nature of these corporate efforts.

This situation raises critical questions: What implications does this have for the progress of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives? Moreover, if DEI practitioners return to these roles, how can we ensure their efforts are supported and recognized more effectively than before?

Paths Forward

Addressing the silent exodus of employees from the DEI and HR sectors requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond lip service. It’s a complex path, yet not insurmountable.

Concrete Steps for Effective DEI Reshaping and Implementation:

Honouring DEI Commitments: Organizations can actively honour their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) commitments through actionable steps that drive meaningful change. This includes:

Inclusive Hiring Practices: Cultivate a culture that actively seeks, values, and nurtures diverse talent. This ranges from the language in job descriptions to the hiring process itself.

Internal Promotion: Facilitate career growth for employees, ensuring their voices are heard and respected. Make career advancement opportunities clear, accessible, and transparent, while investing in their professional development towards leadership roles.

Going Beyond the ‘Business Case’ for Equity and Inclusion: View equity and inclusion as a fundamental moral obligation, rather than just a business strategy.

Recognizing and Addressing Burnout:

Adequate Support for DEI Practitioners: Offer resources like mental health support, peer mentorship programs, and regular check-ins to manage workload and stress.

Fair Compensation: Acknowledge the essential nature of DEI work with appropriate remuneration and benefits to mitigate job insecurity and financial stress.

Maintaining Accountability:

Tracking Progress: Regularly monitor and report DEI metrics to ensure continued alignment with goals and make adjustments as needed.

External Audits: Engage third-party assessments for an unbiased evaluation of DEI efforts, providing essential insights for ongoing improvement.


The silent exodus of DEI practitioners is a sobering reminder that well-intentioned promises are not enough.

Many in DEI roles embarked on this path with a firm belief in the transformative power of sustained efforts, backed by actionable steps and ongoing accountability, across all levels of the organization. The momentum that was ignited in 2020 shouldn’t be allowed to dwindle into inaction but rather be harnessed as a driving force for enduring change.

The future of our workplaces — and the fragility of the collective well-being in our workplaces — relies heavily on this commitment.

About Kat Gabrielle: Kat Gabrielle is a Social Impact Founder of The Well Work, an Org. Change Lead, Speaker, and Facilitator – with her work deeply rooted in her identity as a Black, queer woman.

To find out how Bright can help you and your organisation, say [email protected]

No tags found for this post