One of the hot topics this year so far is the current DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) backlash. DEI has been blamed as being the driving force behind everything from military deaths to plane safety incidents. The majority of Americans see the value of diversity, but it’s undeniable that we’re seeing a pullback on corporate efforts in the DEI space after such a strong focus for the first few years after George Floyd’s murder.
This is partly due to DEI fatigue. One of the major challenges for any kind of DEI work is the fact that genuine work in this space is, by necessity, long-term work. Corporations demand quick results, but it’s not always possible to show a quick return on investment when it comes to DEI initiatives. So, what can often happen is that DEI programs and roles are at the top of the list when cuts are made.
The term DEI has also become politicized, and so we’re starting to see DEI getting rebranded. Some companies are shifting to describe their DEI work as management or culture work. This is nothing new. DEI has always faced resistance, especially from those who are comfortable with the status quo. What we call ‘DEI’ has gone by many different names over time– multiculturalism, pluralism, cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, equal opportunity, etc.
How can we handle this resistance now?
- Consider your role and power. Are you in a position to make decisions regarding your DEI initiatives? DEI will remain important, no matter what it’s called or where it ‘lives’ within a corporation. Some experts anticipate that DEI roles, which are still growing, may shift into legal departments from HR. With that in mind, think about rebranding – the work can continue, even if it’s called by a different name. The important point is that it’s still happening.
- Continue the work with less. Consider what you can do with a smaller or no budget. Can you continue sharing learnings, articles, and resources internally? Can you apply a DEI lens to your work without explicitly calling it ‘DEI’? We recently talked about this on a bonus episode of our podcast.
- Remind leadership of the business case. If you have the ability to survey employees and provide data to remind them of its importance for driving successful business strategy, we recommend doing it as much as you can.
- Take care of yourself. Remember that taking care of yourself is important, especially if you feel the company you work for isn’t supporting your values. If you have the opportunity to move to another company, investigate that option. If you’re finding joy in your work but your values don’t align with the company, that can be okay, too. We operate in a capitalist economy, so be gentle to yourself and recognize that you’re doing what you can today to sustain a long, happy, healthy life and create a world that works for everyone.