Are we witnessing the death of Diversity Equity, and Inclusion?

This isn’t a political rant, so I’m sorry to disappoint if that’s what you’re looking for. This is a professional HR conversation about something we have historically owned in organizations from a responsibility/leadership standpoint. I’ll tell you that over the past five years, the larger the organization, the more the C-suite has taken on this responsibility/leadership standpoint.

Many reports recently have been about major corporations cutting their DEI budgets and staff. Most of these are coming from tech companies who have been hit hard by rate increases and find themselves desperate to cut any non-revenue generating expenses, on top of major headcount reductions across almost all functions. So, it’s not super surprising from a business perspective, as when you dig into the full story, they are cutting everything, not just DEI.

Here’s what I know as a seasoned HR professional who has worked for a long time in enterprise-level organizations. Every program in every organization will at some point be under a level of scrutiny to prove its worth to the organization, no matter how moral, ethical, or idealistic it started out as. You might be leading a program in your organization to save the world from disaster, and some CFOs will eventually come to you and want to talk about the budget and financials and their impact on the bottom line. No matter your mission. This is business. The famous Bob Sugar in Jerry Maguire said it best: “This isn’t show friends, this is show business!”

DEI does not get a pass on this reality in the corporate business world.

DEI will not die in 2024. It’s now a staple of every major organization that has a brand they care about on the planet. However, DEI will have to show that it can move past the touchy, feel-good activities and policies it was founded on and make a real financial impact at your specific organization. Therein lies a problem most of us have. We can’t prove this to be a fact. We can find great news stories and university studies that will say DEI has a positive financial impact, but we still have to prove that it can in our organization. This goes way beyond hiring more people of color to hiring more people-of-getting-shit-done, which actually might be people of color, or women, or non-genders, or trans, or come up with your group. We still have to prove this on the financials.

The scrutiny over DEI programs and budgets is no longer some old white dude CEO not believing DEI is important. Many of those have converted, retired, died, or are on their way out. Millennials now run most corporations. Women are already the dominant workforce participants and are over 60% of college grads today. In the next decade, there will be more women CEOs than men.

DEI leaders can no longer pass off failed programs to others in the organization. C-Suites are looking for DEI leaders who will develop, implement, and successfully run inclusive and equitable programs that add to the company’s overall bottom line and financials. We still have way too many corporations hiring DEI leaders who don’t have the chops to run a successful function and obtain the budgets they need to run a successful function.

What we need more of in DEI is people who know how to execute and understand business. Oh wait, haven’t we been saying that about HR leaders for like three decades!?

The DEI Function of the Future?

I truly believe that most organizations will not have any type of DEI function within a decade. Stay with me! Think about what DEI is really all about. Helping us deliver a work environment that is inclusive and conducive to all people being able to deliver their best work. Right now, most big organizations have a Diversity Recruiting function. Why? Because we are awful at recruiting a diverse workforce, so we decided the way to do this is to start another recruiting function.

This means your recruiting function was broken, and instead of fixing it, you decided to start another one. That’s like saying your sales function is broken, and instead of fixing it, let’s just start another sales function but let the broken one keep doing what it was doing! It makes zero sense for a business to do this. Also, tell me if you call the new recruiting function “Diversity Recruiting”, what do you call the old recruiting function? Normal recruiting? White recruiting? You get my point. Separating how diversity from the rest of the organization as a stand-alone function isn’t ideal.

Building DEI throughout the organization across every function the way it should have been from the beginning is ideal. I’m hopeful, with the strides we’ve made to date, with technology, with data, and with a female-dominated workforce and leadership, we’ll no longer need separate DEI functions within organizations. I mean, the ladies will never make the same mistakes the males made in the past, right?

I’m also not naive to the realities of conscious and unconscious bias in organizations and leadership. So, while I’m hopeful organizations will get to the right place, I have yet to see it at scale. Most large organizations today have data showing them exactly where bias is happening, yet very few have the courage to confront it. We can see exactly which hiring managers are biased, but we rarely do anything. DEI functions will remain necessary if we don’t confront the wrongs in our organizations head-on.

Beat me up in the comments – tell me where I got this wrong. Let’s have some civil discourse!

One thought on “Are we witnessing the death of Diversity Equity, and Inclusion?

  1. I was physically disabled by Bio-Reference/opko as a mentally disabled person with PTSD…Boy do I have a story that about the corruption and abuse of the Florida Healthcare System and I have so much documentation from 1968 1969 and 70, 30 teachers describing my disabilities. I went on to become a microbiologist graduating with honors to be bullied, fired, homeless then physically disabled by my last employer.

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