DEI Is Not Being Cancelled, It’s Just Getting Started

DEI is Facing Backlash and Progress Ebbs and Flows

When I tell people I do diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work, I’m usually met with an instant smile or a confused frown. The responses range from “that’s actually a job?” to “the work you do is so important.” Rarely is there a middle ground. The challenge with the term DEI is in its perceived divisiveness; it’s often seen as something that divides us rather than bridges us.


The History of Diversity Work

Following the civil-rights and women’s-rights movements of the 1970s, corporations began to establish diversity programs to promote equal opportunities for employees from various backgrounds. The early focus of DEI work was primarily on compliance with anti-discrimination laws and creating a more diverse workforce. In the late 1990s to 2000s, the title “chief diversity officer” (CDO) started being used to designate the leader responsible for shaping and implementing DEI strategies. In the following decades, the role of CDOs expanded beyond mere compliance, encompassing broader initiatives such as creating inclusive cultures, fostering diversity in leadership and addressing unconscious bias.

Fast-forward to present day and titles like “chief of diversity and inclusion” or “head of diversity, equity and inclusion,” with a stronger emphasis on inclusion and belonging, are far more common. As with many social movements, there are backlashes, and DEI is no different. This is often driven by misunderstandings and misconceptions of what DEI work is. DEI work is not merely about hiring and promoting folks with diverse backgrounds; it is about creating a workplace environment where everyone feels seen, heard and belonging. The zero-sum game mentality that stokes the fear of irrelevance in the dominant group and alienates people with diverse backgrounds through tokenism has created a polarization in DEI work.


DEI is About Relevance

It is critical to highlight this divide in views about DEI work because McKinsey’s latest research finds that leadership teams with diverse representation enjoy a 39% higher performance. DEI may feel like a polarizing or dirty word, yet……….

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