Write down the name of a family member you trust. Then write down the name of a friend you trust and talk to regularly. Then write down the name of a community you’re a part of, that’s a support system for you.

Follow that up with the name of a mentor or someone you look up to in your workplace. Then scribble down your big dream in life.

Now, rip one of those names off your list because that person has shunned you because you are LGBTQ+. How would that feel?

That’s one of the powerful exercises Liza Buchanan, senior vice president of marketing operations at OneAZ Credit Union, along with other employees at the company completed as part of LGBTQ+ inclusive diversity, equity and inclusion training offered by ONE Community Institute in Phoenix.

She described how the exercise affected those in the training.

“You rip these people away from your lives and literally tear them off [the paper],” Buchanan said. “And there were multiple people in the room that were very emotional about that because they had either gone through that or couldn’t imagine going through that. I just think it really puts things into perspective about what that could feel like. That was a unique piece of what they [ONE Community Institute] do.”

ONE Community President Angela Hughey said demand for the empathy-building certification training continues to grow since it was launched nearly five years ago as more companies realize being inclusive to all is about more than just doing the right thing.

It impacts a company’s bottom line.

But as ONE Community’s programs are seeing growth, there’s evidence that DEI efforts across the country are waning three years after they were in the national spotlight following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis in 2020. And with growing anti-trans and drag queen sentiment across the country, there’s fear from many companies to delve into the often-political nature of being LGBTQ+ inclusive — for example, adding preferred pronouns to email signatures and social media bios, experts say.

DEI not embedded in corporate culture

Melissa Lamson, executive partner at Phoenix-based Lead with DEI, said the demand for DEI training ebbs and flows over time.

“I think because of the economic downtown, there’s probably less investment potentially in DEI training because it’s still unfortunately a separate thing. It’s not embedded into the culture or programs. It’s a separate department. There’s a separate person,” she said.

On the flip side, some companies fear focusing on LGBTQ+ inclusivity because of its political nature and because they simply don’t know what it entails. And some other companies have conservative or religious owners or leaders, who are less likely to offer such training, Lamson added.

In its latest DEI Report, Pittsburgh leadership consulting firm DDI found that leaders’ endorsements of their companies’ overall DEI efforts dropped 18% over the last two years. There’s also a decline in optimism on recruitment, advancement and diversity of leadership.

And while this report made mention of leaders who are women and of a racial or ethnic minority, it made no mention of leaders from the LGBTQ+ community.

DDI’s report found that the decline of DEI efforts can have financial repercussions for companies such as employee turnover and the ability to meet specific customer needs.

Stephanie Neal, director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research, told American City Business Journals that the stress of economic uncertainty and labor challenges have led many businesses to turn their attention away from DEI. Recent media reports show hiring of DEI executives has slowed in recent months and these execs along with marketing, public relations and human resources are the first to be let go in an economic downtown.

“If companies don’t act now to rekindle and reinvest in their DEI programs, the loss of talent will have a profound impact on future business success,” Neal said.

Imperative to recruiting Gen Z workers

Despite cutbacks, experts agree being inclusive is good for business and will be an imperative to recruit top talent in the years ahead.

“From a business standpoint, not only is this the right thing to do, it’s an imperative if we want to attract and retain top talent, if we really want to create a sustainable Arizona for everyone,” Hughey said of LGBTQ+ inclusive DEI training.

ONE Community created the all-inclusive DEI training nearly five years ago. Now, the LGBTQ+ track is the most in-demand training its institute offers, with 100 people receiving training through the program last year. This year, 400 people are expected to complete the LGBTQ+ track.

The growth is likely happening because with each younger generation the number of people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community grows.

In fact, the number of adults in the U.S. who identify as LGBTQ+ has more than doubled in the past decade to 7.2%, a new Gallup poll using 2022 data found. But Generation Z — those born between 1997 and 2004 — is driving that growth, as 19.7% identified as LGBTQ+ in the poll, which was based on aggregated data of 10,000 people.

Additionally, with studies showing that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 — with Gen Z following right behind, and the Census reporting LGBTQ+ consumer spending tops more than $1 trillion each year, the community can’t be ignored.

“All of those things make it pretty clear to me that whether you want to think of it in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion or not, the world is going to change, it’s going to be more diverse,” said Nona Lee, founder and CEO of Valley-based Truth DEI Consulting.

“There’s going to be more LGBTQ + people in the world, and they’re going to be more vocal. They’re going to be very clear on their values. And not only will they not come to work for you, if your values don’t align with theirs, but they’re not going to support you from a consumer perspective. And so people can stick their head in the sand and act like DEI is a passing fad, but based on the research and the data change is coming.”

Slow, methodical approach to DEI

Lee contends that there’s an effort across the country — look at the laws passed in Texas and Florida for example — to make DEI disappear. But Lee said that’s an indication to her that DEI efforts are working.

“Because if it wasn’t working, why would they be working so hard to stop it?” she asked. “People would like to believe that interest is waning and training is waning, but I tell you I am pretty busy.”

OneAZ Credit Union knows firsthand the importance of being inclusive when it comes to recruitment.

Buchanan said 90% of job candidates have researched the credit union online and are specifically looking for an inclusive culture.

“And thank God, they are finding it. That speaks to authenticity. That speaks to our employees being willing to say (on job websites such as Glassdoor) I’m comfortable here and that takes a lot of work.”

Buchanan said OneAZ Credit Union began a slow, methodical approach to being more inclusive about three years ago. They started by forming, what they call the Together is Better committee, made up of everyone from entry-level associates to managers and executives.

“Arizona is an evolving state, and we’re a purple state. So, when you look at the demographics and how they’re changing OneAZ has a responsibility to serve all Arizonans, she said.

Plus, it is part of the credit union’s mission to improve the lives of its shareholders and its employees, noting that the younger generations are more open and more diverse than older generations.

“We have to be authentic to Arizona and the populations that are emerging here, and LGBTQ is one of those,” Buchanan said. “We’ll be a minority majority state in less than 10 years, so we’ve got to understand the Latinos. We’ve got to understand that it’s changing, and we’ve got to change with it.”