History of Diversity in the Workforce

Mar 1, 2023

by Deanna Parkton

With February being Black History Month and March being Women’s History Month, we are taking a moment to reflect on the importance and growth of diversity in the workplace over the last fifty-plus years. While diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has more recently become a tenet of company social responsibility, the idea was introduced in the 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws but within a very limited scope.

The EEO is focused on equal opportunity for all persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, sex, age, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental handicap. In the 1960s and 1970s, initial diversity training efforts were focused primarily on legislation and compliance based on companies avoiding anti-discrimination lawsuits, or through mandated diversity training for non-compliant companies. Government regulation related to diversity training laxed in the early 1980s, but the late 1980s brought about conversations of helping women and minorities assimilate into corporate workplace culture but with little career growth. Women and minorities in the U.S. workplace increased from 118 million in 1986 to 134 million in 1996.

The 1990s brought about a shift from compliance to education and broadened the scope of diversity. Very often called diversity training, education in the workplace was focused on increasing sensitivity and awareness per researchers Anand and Winters who studied the history of corporate diversity training. The late 1990s brought upon the term “inclusion” which focused on cultural competence across all levels of the company. This led to a push for taking education and awareness to the next level, promoting that business decisions be made with a focus on cultural competence. 

The 2000s brought a focus on accountability related to diversity and inclusion. A 2019 Forbes article reflected on diversity and inclusion over the last decade – noting strides related to gender parity, but it acknowledged a lack of progress for individuals with disabilities and people of color. 

2020 – A Catalyst Year 

As we look at the history of DEI between the 1960s to the 2010s, we moved from compliance to education to accountability. The focus on accountability was further pushed into question with the events of 2020. With a national movement and uprising focused on systemic racial injustice, companies realized that a real and visible change was necessary. 80% of dedicated DEI roles within organizations were implemented between 2020 and 2022 in order to build equity & inclusion programs. DEI specialists often are responsible for helping an organization build their goals around DEI and evaluate and assess DEI efforts across an organization. 

Where are we today?
Statistics collected by BuiltIn in 2022

  • Women make up 46.6% of all US employees.
  • Women’s wages equal 83% of men’s wages.
  • For every 100 men promoted, 86 women are promoted.
  • 41 Fortune 500 Companies have a female CEO and 6 Fortune 500 companies have a black CEO. 
  • 77% of the US workforce is made up of white people. 
  • 24% of black, hispanic or latinx employees experienced discrimination in the workplace. 


  • Companies with highly diverse teams noticed a significant increase in cash flow — to the tune of 2.5 times per employee.
  • Highly gender-diverse executive teams are found to be 21 percent more likely to perform above the national industry mean on profitability.
  • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians’ financial returns.
  • When companies foster a more inclusive work environment, 83 percent of Millennials are found to be actively engaged in their work.
  • Compared to individual decision makers, diverse teams make better decisions 87 percent of the time.

(Sources can be found at https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion/diversity-in-the-workplace-statistics

While strides continue to be made, there is more work to be done on DEI in the workplace. As we continue to advance through the decade of 2020, we have seen an increase in accountability and an acknowledgement of the value of DEI efforts. Awareness is the first step of change, not just at an organizational level, but an individual level. Each of us can make a positive impact in our respective professional environments. Start small by acknowledging the importance of DEI efforts and attending and promoting DEI events. Not only does DEI improve organizations and our national workforce, it adds value and humanity to our work communities. 

More Resources: 

Celebrating Black History Month in the Workplace: Encouraging Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

BEING AN ALLY: What White Professionals Can Do To Support Black Colleagues

For more ideas on how you can strategize your work, consider working with a career coach. A coach can help you identify strategies to face challenges head on. Check out our executive coaching services and sign up for a free consultation here.

Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at workinglivingwell.com and she can be reached at workinglivingwell@gmail.com.