DEI In Decline: Navigating The Backlash

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Although its roots go back to the 1960s civil rights movements, DEI has become a part of our office conversations for the last 20 years. After George Floyd’s death in 2020, many companies increased their DEI budgets, established DEI departments, and recruited DEI executives, which was followed by DEI training.

However, the latest data shows that all these initiatives have experienced a serious decline, if not a turnaround. For example, a 5% increase in DEI personnel recruitment during the first half of 2023 was followed by an 8% decrease in the second half of the same year. Furthermore, many organizations changed their DEI policies, moving away from their initial promises during the period and stepping back from their budgetary commitments as well. Additionally, a large number of legal complaints were filed by conservative organizations against large and well-known companies, and even a Supreme Court ruling (click to read more in this ruling) in 2023 came into action in the US. Consequently, the Supreme Court ruling drastically changed the attitude of American universities.

In contrast, there is currently not enough evidence that Canadian or European organizations are following their US counterparts. However, a shift will not be a surprise as anti-DEI speeches are becoming louder all around the world.

Recognizing that certain factors cannot be changed immediately, it is unfortunate that immature and palliative efforts, instead of nurturing DEI, harm progress and increase defensiveness. Upon examining the efforts of various organizations, it becomes evident that many engage in premature and artificial activities that require immediate change.

At this point, a major discomfort is arising from the staffing perspective of DEI. Discrimination goes both ways, and our focus should be on hiring or promoting the best person to fit the position rather than solely based on ethnic or religious similarities or differences. This principle should apply across all positions, as no one desires a less competent manager promoted for reasons other than job fit. The same holds true for DEI representatives who lack the experience to run such programs, resulting in less planned but sugar-coated actions. Recruiting and promoting based on their personal preferences rather than experience and knowledge continues to hinder business execution, results, and, ultimately, DEI progress.

Additionally, a notable issue arises from otherness. For example, we have quality departments that objectively control and report deviations from the ideal procedures and products. However, quality itself is the responsibility of the relevant departments and people. On the contrary, DEI is represented in separate departments rather than being integrated as a part of each and every department’s and individual’s responsibility. Mere visual displays, such as hanging posters and writing inspirational quotes on web pages, only exemplify the gap between the current practices and the ideal position. Silverlining DEI does not make it normal and acceptable, nor does making it solely the responsibility of another department internalize it.

It is crucial to recognize that change begins with people’s mindsets. DEI is a cultural change and must take root in individuals’ minds. From my perspective, respect is the keyword for DEI. We may not always feel or think the same way, but we can simply accept the difference. Honouring and respecting our differences, noticing what is behind the facade, and seeing the effects of diverse perspectives can lead to profound understanding and ultimately change the world.

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