How to Handle DEI Pushback

Here’s how to handle the DEI pushback we’re seeing

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are seeing the brunt of pushback. Many organizations are reducing budgets, head count and resources to support DEI. 

Diversity, equity and inclusion work is a long game. Decades of inequality will not be solved in the short-term. Those organizations that see DEI as their competitive advantage and double down on their commitments now will see long-term rewards for their efforts. 

To handle DEI pushback consider rethinking your approach by:

  • Reframing DEI as building a culture of respect and inclusion rather than political or religious affiliations 
  • Reinforce that DEI is not about telling you how to think, it’s about respecting other perspectives 
  • Reengaging early advocates and not letting the loudest, angriest voices represent your organization


Reframing DEI as a culture of respect and inclusion

Recent HR Dive research found that nearly half of executives actually believes in their organization’s commitment to DEI. Resoundingly, budget cuts and the lack of accountability for DEI are cited as the primary reasons. Senior leaders we are speaking with right now are concerned about people misunderstanding what DEI really is. 

The primary misunderstanding about the DEI is that it’s associated with political or religious beliefs. People fear what they don’t understand and fill in their education gaps with assumptions. Oftentimes from their biased news sources, friends, family and others that may reinforce the fallacy that DEI is against their beliefs. DEI is not about politics or religion, is about human issues regardless of where you sit politically or spiritually.  

Reinforcing that DEI is about respecting other perspectives

For individualists, DEI can also feel polarizing. If the concepts are new and challenge traditional thinking, resistance may feel natural for some at first. They might just not get it yet. Shifting to a coaching versus cancel culture is key. At its most basic level, DEI is about respect and fairness, two deeply primal human needs. As a social species, we are wired to be a part of inclusive environments that are fair and equitable for all.

Just because someone is angry or vocaly against EI doesn’t mean they represent the vast majority of the organization. 75% of people support DEI and reward it with their employment and their customer loyalty. 

“With the labor market remaining tight for the foreseeable future, a focus on worker retention is that much more important,” said Allan Schweyer, Principal Researcher of Human Capital at The Conference Board. “These results reveal that once workers are paid competitively, a strong workplace culture is the most important factor for keeping workers. Leaders gain the most by offering flexible, hybrid work arrangements, and by emphasizing work experience and culture factors such as interesting work, reasonable workloads, and opportunities for career growth.”

DEI is not about imparting beliefs or values on others. It’s about listening to what the majority of people want – fairness, equity and support.


Reengaging early advocates and not letting the loudest, angriest voices be heard

The early adopters of DEI are exhausted. They’ve been having the same conversation for years. Many became cautiously optimistic in the summer of 2020 when people came into the work in droves all to quickly exit a few years later. Reengage the early adopters – give them tools, resources and support.

According to the 2023 Kelly Global Re:work Report, 28% of employees say they are very likely to leave their employer in the next 12 months – a number even higher for senior leaders at 72%. The lack of work-life balance and development opportunities are chief concerns for employees looking to exit current workplaces, with only 23% say their employer provides regular training and development. There is a cost of this disengagement: 45% of talent say they are delivering only the bare minimum of what their role contractually requires. 

This lack of engagement is more costly than most DEI budgets. During these challenging times, it is crucial to remember that despite pushback, the majority of people do support DEI and recognize its value. Organizations that prioritize DEI efforts and cultivate a culture of respect and inclusion can reap long-term rewards, such as increased employee retention, customer loyalty, and overall organizational success.

Handling DEI pushback requires reframing its purpose, reinforcing the value of respect and inclusion, and reengaging early advocates. By committing to DEI and investing in creating a positive work culture, organizations can experience long-term benefits and mitigate the costs associated with disengagement.

At Next Pivot Point we have lots of resources to help you facilitate successful diversity and inclusion initatives. Schedule some time with our team today to discuss where to start or how to do better. You can also check out: