Lately, I’ve been in several discussions where I’m asked, what’s happening to DEIB? In 2020, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging were among the most googled words. In the aftermath of George Floyd, diversity initiatives became a top priority in organizations big & small. And at both for-profit and non-profits alike. DEIB had resources of time, attention, people and dollars. However, three years later the well is running dry. The idea of recession lead to corporate belt-tightening and budget cuts. Alternatively, political culture wars led to anti-Black, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, efforts, and violence. The ultimate result is a broad spectrum walk back of diversity initiatives. It seems diversity is no longer the business imperative it was three years ago.
Over the past six months, we began seeing the continual “slimming” of diversity initiatives. We see this evidence consistently across academic, corporate, entertainment, and government sectors. The most glaring examples are:
- The elimination of key high-level DEIB positions
- The cutting of funding for DEIB initiatives
- The downgrading of inclusion as part of the employee (or student) experience
- The practice of diversity dishonesty
- The ghosting of DEIB in conversation, pattern, practice, and accountability measures
Adding insult to injury, the supreme court struck down affirmative action in college admissions last week and determined race can’t be a factor. This decision will have a chilling effect on diversity in college settings. And many will interpret it as license for not just slimming, but ultimately dismantling diversity initiatives far beyond academia.
One trend we’re repeatedly seeing with DEIB is diversity dishonesty. Diversity dishonesty is an outgrowth of not intentionally centering, prioritizing and funding diversity. According to Tricia Callendar, PHD and head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Thinx Inc., diversity dishonesty is when a company or organization works hard to give the appearance they’re invested in diversity, but don’t make the internal changes to support diverse people in the organization. It’s the practice of expending lots of energy on diversity without making the necessary internal changes to embrace, center and operationalize inclusive practices. If you’re familiar with Cardi B…it’s the opposite of her hit song, “Backin’ It Up,” in which she describes herself as the queen of talking trash and backing it up with action.
Diversity dishonesty presents in many forms. Though not an exhaustive list, it can look like any of the following:
- Prioritizing diversity numbers over the practice of inclusion
- An underrepresentation of diverse staff in management, leadership and board roles
- A lack of psychological safety
- Gaslighting employees when they raise diversity concerns
- Commoditizing or tokenizing diverse employees
What Organizations Can Do
In light of financial constraints, employers can focus on meaningful, budget friendly solutions. They can and should regularly check-in with employees to understand their needs. Employee listening can vary greatly in scale, method and cost. It’s doable and doesn’t require a massive cash outlay. The key is having the wherewithal to be transparent with feedback and to act on it.
Secondly, employers should regularly review internal practice and policy. By focusing solely on business outcomes, organizations often underestimate the importance of updating existing policies. The latter, which can be accomplished with internal resources, provides an opportunity to reflect new and progressive learning and application. Any resulting practice and policy updates should naturally include new expectations and accountabilities for all staff. In an article I wrote last year, I discussed various ways organizations can consider a wholistic approach to centering diversity.
Additionally, employers (particularly leaders) should challenge their assumptions. This is harder than it sounds because it’s really an exercise aimed at questioning core beliefs and values. However, it’s one that helps us broaden our aperture, shift perspective, and become more inclusive.
Finally, organizations should focus on inclusive leadership development. Retooling and honing leadership skills for a post-covid way of working is a business imperative. This includes developing power skills for people leaders at all levels. Equipping leaders to harness emotional intelligence as a leadership tool is essential to collective organizational success.
For more information on what’s happening to DEIB and how The Perry Perspective can support your organization’s diversity efforts, schedule a consultation here.