Joelle Emerson’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (D.E.I.) consultancy, Paradigm, has faced a growing backlash against D.E.I. initiatives. According to Emerson, criticism of D.E.I. is often the first topic discussed in conversations with clients. Critics of D.E.I. have gone so far as to blame it for issues ranging from regional bank failures to plane accidents. The debate on the merits of D.E.I. has intensified recently, with Elon Musk, Bill Ackman, and Mark Cuban clashing on social media over its effectiveness.
Since the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020, companies have hired D.E.I. officers in large numbers. However, D.E.I. programs have become less visible recently. Hiring for D.E.I. roles has declined, and the number of investor calls mentioning D.E.I. has dropped. This raises the question of whether companies have scaled back on D.E.I. or simply changed their approach and language around it.
The changing political and economic landscape has influenced the way companies approach D.E.I. initiatives. The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action in college admissions has triggered a wave of lawsuits and legal threats against diversity programs in companies. Polling shows that while the majority of Americans believe in the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is a wide partisan divide on the issue.
In response to the pushback, some D.E.I. professionals believe that rebranding has taken place. For example, what was once called a D.E.I. survey may now be referred to as a culture survey. Similarly, management training that was framed as part of D.E.I. efforts may now be presented as a course to improve performance reviews. Emerson suggests that companies should be more specific about what they mean when discussing D.E.I.
Some companies have expanded their D.E.I. programs to include a broader range of groups. Rather than focusing on specific minorities, these programs aim to increase equity in promotions across the entire organization. Some companies have even started using the term “I.E.D.” instead of “D.E.I.” to emphasize inclusion.
While there has been a decline in D.E.I. job postings, it does not necessarily indicate a retreat from D.E.I. commitments. Factors such as slow turnover and a cooling labor market in industries that typically have D.E.I. roles may have contributed to the decrease. Some evidence suggests that companies remain committed to D.E.I., with a majority of C-suite executives saying they have expanded their D.E.I. efforts.
The way companies talk about D.E.I. has also evolved. Some executives have stopped using the term E.S.G. (environmental, social, and corporate governance) due to its politicization. However, professionals in the field are not concerned about changes in branding as long as the work continues. Others argue that changing the words is a retreat and that diversity, equity, and inclusion should be called what they are.
In conclusion, D.E.I. consultancy Paradigm has faced a growing backlash against its initiatives. The changing political and economic landscape has influenced how companies approach and discuss D.E.I. Some companies have rebranded or expanded their programs, while others have scaled back. Despite a decline in D.E.I. job postings, evidence suggests that many companies remain committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The way companies talk about D.E.I. may have changed, but the end goals of these initiatives remain the same.