Whenever something new is introduced, there are inevitably criticisms. DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusive culture) practices are no different. As this relatively new approach to people and culture management is adopted by more and more organisations, some criticisms and critiques have stood out. The following list offers answers to 7 of the most frequently seen statements that undervalue DEI.
If you need a refresher on the nuances of DEI, you can read our introduction. If you want a more focused read, consider our DEI white paper and articles which focus on Leadership, Inclusive Cultures and Structure.
DEI is just for show – This is the most common criticism of DEI that I have seen. And it’s hard to blame people for feeling this way. Unfortunately, many organisations do see DEI this way, as evidenced by how many DEI positions have been affected by the big-tech layoffs of late 2022 and early 2023.
Companies claiming to be experts without having any experience – As with every big, new idea, there are always those looking to make a quick-buck. Malicious or not, some organisations have positioned themselves as DEI experts but may not have enough experience to guide others.
DEI prioritises visible attributes – Another common criticism is that DEI practices prioritise visible attributes such as skin colour or gender. Any organisation who approaches DEI in this way is using a check-list, and is thus more likely to cause harm than good. A successful and sustainable approach to DEI is one that is built upon genuine and authentic commitments to its pillars. A more nuanced dissection of the pillars can be found in the articles linked above, but put simply, inclusion for everyone, no-one is disqualified, but structures are put in place to reduce and remove unconscious bias, giving everyone, from any diversity qualifier, and equitable opportunity.
DEI diminishes the size of the talent pool – Tied into the previous answer is the criticism that by aiming for increased diversity, the talent pool gets smaller. It doesn’t get smaller, instead the traits that are sought after change, establishing a pool made up of a diverse selection of candidates.
DEI is divisive – It certainly can be, but doesn’t need to be. The potential for division comes from the practices and wording that an organisation uses. Are the trainings mandatory? Are candidates not being considered because they aren’t diverse? These kind of (usually) well-intentioned practices miss the point of DEI. It must not be approached with a list of check-boxes. You can read our articles linked above to learn more.
DEI diminishes accomplishments and disincentivizes performance – It can incentivize different performance indicators. Prioritises collaboration rather than the individual. This supports the financial bottom line. It does not have to diminish individual contributions or engagement. Additionally, McKinsey has found that organisations which help their employees develop, contribute to them making more money over the course of their career.
Forced training doesn’t work – That is true. DEI should not be forced, instead management should be working on their change management skills, with the aim of earning trust before working to aim employee buy-in.
While these criticisms lead people to doubt the importance of DEI, there are clear impacts and benefits that come from authentic commitments and mindful management of DEI practices. Increased productivity, collaboration and innovation build upon enhanced employee attendance and retention, which further enhances customer satisfaction. These of course lead to better financial performance as well as an increased ability and capacity for a competitive edge, regardless if your organisation operates in local or global markets.