By the Numbers: How Fortune 100 companies are adjusting their DE&I language

We’ve seen a big shift in the last year.

Use of language relating to DE&I is on the decline

Diversity, equity and inclusion is undergoing a dramatic shift that may even see the very name of the discipline altered.

Facing political pushback, the language that is used to encourage respect, acceptance and a sense of belonging among all employees, including those from historically marginalized groups, is evolving to emphasize a person’s experiences and opinions rather than their identity.

Gravity Research reviewed more than 1,000 SEC filings, earnings reports and other documents from Fortune 100 companies to better understand how the language surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion has changed in the last year.

The findings reveal a steep decline in the vocabulary of inclusion that arose in the wake of the 2020 protests after the murder of George Floyd and others at the hands of police.



Since 2023, Gravity Research found a 22% decline in the use of language such as “DEI” and its constituent parts, including “diversity” and “inclusion.” In 2023, 43% of Fortune 100 earnings calls mentioned these types of terms, but it fell to just 31% in 2024.

But that doesn’t mean that talk of these concepts is vanishing — for most organizations, anyway. Rather, it’s evolving.

In the place of DE&I, terms such as “belonging,” “diverse experiences” and “diverse perspectives” are skyrocketing in popularity. Overall, these “neutral terms,” as Gravity Research terms them, saw a 59% year-over-year increase.

Research on DE&I language from Gravity Research

The reasons for this are complex but can be traced back to two key factors.

The shift to using “diverse” as an adjective rather than a noun was encouraged by the Supreme Court case that changed how affirmative action is used in colleges. Many Republican attorneys general subsequently sent warnings to companies that diversity initiatives that favor one race over another would be subject to legal scrutiny.

“Responsible corporations interested in supporting underprivileged individuals and communities can find many lawful outlets to do so,” a group letter penned by 13 AGs said. “But drawing crude lines based on skin color is not a lawful outlet, and it hurts more than it helps.”

As a result, focusing on “diverse perspectives and experiences” serves to offer a broader tent. It can preserve the overall goals of a DE&I initiative — to get different ideas, histories, cultural perspectives into an organization — without being race-based. The intent is to ensure that DE&I practices are more about lived experiences of people, not the color of their skin. Additionally, the mention of “diverse perspectives” can be pointed to when Republicans ask for viewpoint or intellectual diversity when they feel liberal voices are overrepresented.

In addition to the decrease in specific language used, there was also a sharp shift in reference to specific programs and roles related to DE&I, the research found.

Mentions of specific measures and KPIs related to diversity precipitously plunged.

There are multiple reasons this could be happening. For instance, decreases in discussions around “diversity officer” or “chief diversity officer” in communications could be attributed to the fact that these hires have already been made, leaving less need to announce new positions or hires. But discussions of representation targets or goals leave less wiggle room.

These are publicly stated goals that these organizations have made and to which they’ve made themselves accountable, both internally and externally. While it may be politically expedient to downplay these pledges now, many won’t forget that they were made. Even as they seek to insulate themselves from criticism from the right, downplaying these issues suddenly opens these organizations to criticisms from the left, using their own words and promises against them.

While at first glance these moves may read as DE&I erasure — and for some organizations, it’s certainly worth questioning the intent of such changes — they are in many cases driven by DE&I advocates. Even academia, long on the forefront of DE&I efforts, is pulling back in some instances. Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences recently announced that it would no longer require job applicants to share diversity statements, but rather to describe how they would engage in “efforts to strengthen academic communities” and to create a “learning environment in which students are encouraged to ask questions and share their ideas.” DE&I advocates within the school said that the statements were often counterproductive from their stated goals.

Some companies, such as Starbucks, are moving away from use of the word “representation” altogether, swapping it for “talent” and speaking in a more general way about the value in people who offer various perspectives.

This language will only continue to evolve. The issues raised in 2020 aren’t disappearing, particularly as the United States. In just over 20 years, white people will become a minority in the country. The need for organizations to bring in talent and customers from many backgrounds, viewpoints and lived experiences will grow. But the legal and regulatory landscape will also require swift changes to strategy, even as the goal remains the same: to bring in as many people as possible.

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on or LinkedIn.


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