Avoiding Setbacks: Keeping DEI Efforts On Track Amid Layoffs

Sometimes, layoffs become a bitter pill businesses have to swallow. It’s never an easy choice, but on occasion, it’s necessary for the survival and long-term success of a company. But in reality layoffs can throw a serious wrench in the works of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, especially if these cuts end up affecting our minority groups more than others. Without some seriously intentional precautions, we could see DEI strides grind to a disappointing halt right in the midst of layoffs.

In this blog post, we’re taking a deep dive into the tricky process of layoffs and their potential to unevenly impact minority groups in the workforce. We’ll look at the possible ripple effects layoff could have on company culture, morale, and even reputation. We’ll also be sharing some key steps and strategies to help your business keep its DEI efforts strong and robust, even when layoffs come knocking at the door. By consciously upholding DEI during tough times, you can not only keep our company culture alive, but also foster trust and enhance your standing as an inclusive employer.

Making the tough call

No matter what sparks a round of layoffs, they can hit minority groups in a big way, which is why companies need to keep their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts front and center when making these decisions.

If a company is judging strictly by tenure or seniority, it might be unintentionally undercutting its own diversity efforts. It could end up saying goodbye to folks who may be fresh faces at the company but bring a heap of invaluable perspectives and diverse experiences to the table. Plus, these kind of layoffs might bypass some seriously high-performing minority employees who are still new to the company.

When organizations decide to implement a “last hired/first fired” policy, they inadvertently risk undermining their diversity and inclusion efforts. Such a policy can disproportionately impact recently recruited diverse talents, notably women and people of color. Longitudinal Research highlights that Black employees are often disproportionately affected by this approach.

A frequently explored avenue to cut costs in times of downturns involves reducing the number of contractors rather than full-time employees. Pew Research has found that individuals from marginalized communities, including Latinos, Black people, and other underrepresented groups, are more likely to occupy temporary or part-time roles.

Therefore, a downsizing of the contractor pool may disproportionally impact these individuals. In late 2022, Twitter received commendation for increasing its representation of Black employees in U.S. locations from 6.9% to 9.4%. However, the subsequent takeover by Elon Musk has had a considerable adverse effect on these diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, making Twitter a target for rightful criticism when the impacts predominantly affected those with marginalized identities.

When we turn to layoffs based on perceived essential roles, we may unwittingly damage our organization’s rich diversity. Such approaches often result in targeting employees in roles deemed less critical, for example the ones in the creative or hospitality fields that are frequently occupied by women and other minority groups. In the immediate, these employees may not appear indispensable, but this is a short-term lens. Over the long haul, these very individuals could bring novel insights and distinct perspectives that might fuel future organizational success.

The approach of random-selection layoffs is fraught with its own set of issues. If these layoffs give an impression, whether within the company or in the public eye, that minority groups are bearing the brunt of the workforce reduction, the reputation of the organization could be at stake. Research by Glassdoor found that 76% of job seekers and employees consider workforce diversity an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.

Thus, layoffs that disproportionately impact minority groups can harm a company’s reputation and recruiting efforts. Beyond the reputational implications, unconscious biases may creep into the selection process of these supposedly ‘random’ layoffs, posing yet another threat to the company’s DEI initiatives. It’s a delicate balance to strike and requires vigilant oversight to ensure fairness and uphold the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Safeguarding DEI during layoffs

As companies navigate layoffs, it’s crucial to ensure that their DEI efforts are preserved as much as possible. Here’s a series of key points designed to protect and uphold DEI initiatives that will serve as valuable guidelines for navigating complex situations during layoffs:

1. Transparency and Equity: It’s essential to ensure that layoffs are carried out in a fair and transparent manner, with no bias or discrimination based on factors like race, ethnicity, gender, age, or disability. Implementing a standardized approach and including diverse stakeholders in the decision-making process can help ensure that layoffs are carried out equitably.

2. Communication and Engagement: Layoffs can cause uncertainty and anxiety among employees, especially those from underrepresented groups. Companies can minimize the impact of layoffs on their DEI efforts by communicating transparently with employees, keeping them informed of the company’s DEI goals, and ensuring that they feel heard and valued.

3. Retention of Diversity: While layoffs are inevitable, companies should strive to retain diversity and inclusion in their workforce as much as possible. One strategy could be to prioritize the retention of diverse employees by creating targeted programs that support their development and growth within the organization.

4. Commitment to DEI: Layoffs can easily derail a company’s DEI efforts, but it’s crucial to maintain the commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion even during challenging times. Leaders can do this by ensuring that DEI initiatives remain a top priority, creating programs that support underrepresented employees, and promoting a culture of inclusion and respect.

Protecting DEI gains with ONA

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) isn’t just a neat concept, but a strategic tool that can be harnessed to shield diversity, equity, and inclusion progress when layoffs are inevitable. The key advantage of ONA lies in the deep insights it provides about the interactions within an organization. It unveils the employees whose significance extends beyond their job title, illuminating their role as critical connectors and knowledge sharers.

The power of ONA application prior to initiating layoffs can tremendously help guide the process. Companies could unravel the intricate social network within their teams, exposing the potential tremors layoffs might send across certain groups. ONA can unmask network dynamics that, if left unattended, could generate disproportionate shocks to certain minority groups. With this knowledge, companies have the upper hand they can mitigate these issues proactively, even before layoffs occur.

Further, ONA is instrumental in maintaining diverse and inclusive networks. By keeping tabs on network connections, companies can ensure no pivotal voices are silenced or overlooked in vital communication pathways or decision-making processes. This becomes crucial during periods of upheaval and change, like layoffs, where employees could easily drift away from the wider network.

ONA is a reliable tool in gauging the success of post-layoff recovery efforts. By contrasting pre- and post-layoff network dynamics, organizations can evaluate the efficacy of their changes in preserving DEI progress. This review can guide companies to fine-tune their strategies and pinpoint areas ripe for enhancement in the future.

With its capabilities of identifying crucial employees, revealing network dynamics, upholding inclusive networks, and evaluating recovery strategies, ONA can act as a bulwark, softening the blow of layoffs on minority groups and ensuring DEI efforts stay on the course.

Maintaining DEI beyond layoffs

The aftermath of a layoff decision extends well beyond the initial announcement. It is imperative that companies demonstrate a continued commitment to their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives during this challenging period. The remaining employees often grapple with a variety of emotions, ranging from survivor’s guilt to anxiety about future stability. This is where a company’s HR and leadership need to step in with compassion, transparency, and a renewed commitment to DEI.

The aftermath of layoffs presents an opportune moment for companies to reassess their internal dynamics and interactions, and Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) can play a pivotal role in this phase. It serves as an indispensable tool to navigate the company’s landscape post-layoff in the following aspects:

Assessing the Impact of Layoffs: After layoffs, ONA can be used to assess the impact on the organizational structure and dynamics. By comparing pre- and post-layoff network analyses, companies can understand how communication, collaboration, and influence patterns have changed.

Identifying New Leaders: In case the existing leadership structures have been disrupted, ONA can help identify emerging leaders by revealing who has become central to information flow and collaboration in the new network structure.

Rebuilding Broken Networks: Layoffs can result in broken communication channels. ONA can highlight these gaps, helping businesses develop strategies to rebuild and strengthen these networks. This might involve establishing new collaborations, designing team-building activities, or enhancing communication structures.

Mitigating Knowledge Loss: In case of knowledge loss caused by layoffs, ONA can help identify areas where expertise might have been lost and strategies can then be developed to mitigate this, such as targeted recruitment, training programs, or changes in knowledge management practices.

Supporting Employee Wellbeing: ONA can pinpoint employees who have become isolated or overly burdened after layoffs, enabling targeted interventions to support these individuals and foster a positive work environment.

Monitoring Recovery Progress: ONA can be used on an ongoing basis to monitor recovery progress. By periodically conducting network analyses, companies can track changes over time and adjust their strategies as needed to ensure effective recovery and resilience.

Reinforcing DEI Initiatives: Post-layoff ONA can provide insights to ensure that the new organizational structure continues to support DEI, by identifying potential issues such as emerging segregation in networks or unequal access to resources or opportunities.


Navigating the necessary layoffs poses a significant challenge to companies, especially when striving to preserve diversity, equity, and inclusion. During such tough times, minority groups risk being hit harder, potentially disrupting DEI efforts and tarnishing a company’s reputation. To maintain the integrity of DEI initiatives amid these upheavals, organizations need to implement and follow carefully crafted layoff strategies marked by transparency and fairness, exceptional communication, a focus on retaining a diverse workforce, and an unwavering commitment to DEI principles.

This is where Organizational Network Analysis can wield its power. As a potent analytical instrument, ONA offers profound insights into the complex web of social connections within a company. It helps pinpoint employees who are critical to maintaining a healthy organizational network and reveals the dynamics that could lead to a disproportionate impact on certain minority groups. Through its unique ability to preserve inclusive networks and measure the efficacy of post-layoff recovery efforts, ONA can become the key solution for maintaining DEI initiatives during layoffs.

Even post-layoff, the recovery strategy could greatly benefit from ONA. As it can help gauge the impact of layoffs, identify rising leaders, mend damaged communication networks, counter knowledge attrition, and bolster employee wellbeing can all lead to a more efficient and effective recovery. ONA can also serve as a compass, guiding you towards areas of improvement, tracking your recovery trajectory, and reinforcing DEI efforts. Such mindful steps can help companies not only recover with more resilience post-layoffs, but also ensure their commitment to DEI stands strong.

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