Will Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (“DEI”) soon be confined to the dustbin of history?  A recent article in the National Post on Thursday May 8th got me wondering.  The article, originally based on a report written by Taylor Telford of the Washington Post, was entitled “Many companies are shedding DEI staff”.

The article summarized the growth of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (“DEI”) jobs since 2020.  It noted that in recent months there has been a noticeable softening of DEI hiring.  The article went on to examine the reasons for this including outsourcing of the DEI role to consultants, legal challenges, a major U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down affirmative action programs, the move by state legislators to cut funding and support for DEI programs, and the high-profile resignations of several university and college visible minority presidents.

Is DEI dead?  I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect it is about to face a major existential challenge.  Whether it survives or not is uncertain.

The Canadian Experience

Back in 1984, the concept of employment equity was pioneered by Chief Justice Rosalie Abella. The Abella Commission, which she headed, investigated the lack of employment opportunities available to certain classes of workers.  In its report, she recommended the creation of employment equity programs to redress instances of systemic discrimination and bias in the hiring process.  Over the years that program has evolved to encompass a number of programs and measures intended to enhance representation of different groups.

Has it been successful?  Possibly. Would this success have occurred without the measures Justice Abella proposed?  Who knows.

If employment equity programs had focused solely on creating resource groups, sponsoring scholarships, or fostering understanding of different cultures or ethnic groups, the opposition to DEI would have been less apparent.  However, when employment equity ventured into the realm of promoting hiring quotas based on gender or race to achieve greater gender, racial or ethnic balance, the conversation changed significantly.

More recently, employment equity has evolved into Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with a focus on eliminating systemic barriers to employment and advancement for “disadvantaged” or “marginalized” individuals.  That shift has been coupled with the growth of what has been loosely described as “WOKE”.  The advent of the “MeToo” movement and “Black Lives Matter” movements in the United States, has resulted in the emergence of a social equity orientation that seeks to raise awareness of perceived injustices brought about by white privilege.

The Silent Majority Revolts

Vivek Ramaswamy wrote a fascinating book a couple of years ago entitled “Woke Inc.”.  For those who may be unaware, Ramaswamy is a Harvard and Yale educated scientist and financier who was born in India and raised in Ohio.  After working in the investment industry he started his own biotechnology firm which became hugely successful.  More recently, he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for President in the United States.

In his book, Ramaswamy explores in detail what he describes as “stakeholder capitalism” that permeates many corporations.  What is sinister about his analysis is his contention that a ruling elite of business professionals have bought into the DEI agenda and its promises of a better future.  He goes on to state that DEI is a cleverly crafted ruse that is intended to subvert people’s individuality while suppressing opposition and conflicting viewpoints.

A generation earlier another Canadian academic expressed his concerns and frustration with employment equity.  Martin Loney was a Sociology professor and author of a controversial book in the late 1990’s called “Pursuit of Division”. In his book he traced the evolution of employment equity in federal government programs from the evolution of the Abella Report through to the Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae and its fixation upon racial hiring and quotas.  What made Loney’s interpretation unique is that his political persuasions are anything but conservative or right-wing.  As an avowed Marxist, Loney does not fit the stereotype of what would typically think of an anti-DEI advocate.

One thing about Loney’s interpretation that is unique is his research into and analysis of the impact of economic inequities.  Loney argues that socio-economic disadvantage is a far more impactful variable than race, gender or ethnicity in determining whether one progresses beyond their socio-economic level.  He uses the example of Japanese Canadians who, per capita, have one of the highest levels of education and financial status in the country, to illustrate his point.  Yet, according to employment equity advocates, Japanese Canadians are visible minorities, and therefore, are determining of special treatment.

Loney would argue that if you want to raise the economic well-being of the disadvantaged then greater focus should be placed on reducing economic inequalities.  Those like Ramaswamy would contend that if economic inequality is a concern then incentivizing opportunities and limiting government control and involvement would be a better way of achieving it.  Interesting how a Marxist and a conservative come to the same conclusion, albeit through different approaches.  Both would contend that focusing on differences is less relevant than focusing on economic inequality.

Concepts such as employment equity, DEI and the WOKE agenda could soon become a thing of the past (Picture courtesy of FPD Images and Pexels).

Concepts such as employment equity, DEI and the WOKE agenda could soon become a thing of the past (Picture courtesy of FPD Images and Pexels).

A Personal Perspective

In my last corporate position I had responsible for coordinating and preparing my employer’s Employment Equity Narrative.  Under the federal Employment Equity Act every federally regulated Canadian corporation with more than one hundred employees is required annually to submit a report detailing the measures it has enacted to reach its employment equity targets.  This report was a substantial undertaking, and necessitated gathering information from a variety of different stakeholders across the Bank.  It took months of data-gathering, preparation, writing and review.  The end result was a report of approximately 30 pages in length, complete with many more pages of data and statistics, that ultimately found its way to the Minister of Labour and the Human Rights Commission in Ottawa.  Whether anyone ever saw it, let alone read it, I’m unsure.  It got uploaded to our website, and that was pretty much the end of it.  Over the course of six years researching and preparing these submissions not once did I ever call or question about our Reports.

Admittedly, I’m not a big supporter of DEI.  I’ve seen it from the perspective of a Human Resources practitioner, as well as a coach, a teacher and an employee.  The process of categorizing human beings into nice, neat typologies (i.e. women; indigenous; visible minority; disabled) is something I’ve always found inherently superficial, simplistic and demeaning.  People, I believe, are unique, and what makes them unique isn’t a function of the colour of their skin, their gender, or their physical attributes.  The reality is that we all share 95.4% DNA.   It is our character that really differentiates and defines us.  The moment we start categorizing people we lose sight of their uniqueness and individuality, and that, for me, is just sad.

A Final Thought…

In my experience, DEI practitioners don’t add much relevance or value in organizations.  Besides their rhetoric which I’ve often found offensive and silly, DEI proponents spend copious amounts of time and lots of money organizing resource groups for so-called “disadvantaged” elements in society.  They develop and conduct training courses that are suffused with divisive terminology such as “white privilege”, “micro aggressions” and “intersectionality”.  They are rooted on eradicating things such as colonialism while demonstrating little if any substantive understanding of history, or even an awareness of the real problems faced by real people working in real organizations.

Is DEI doomed?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that the backlash against DEI is just getting started.  The real possibility of a Trump victory in the United States Presidential election later this year, coupled with a good chance the Conservatives will win the next federal election in Canada, doesn’t bode well for its prospects.  Personally, if it expired tomorrow I, for one, wouldn’t shed a tear.  I daresay I won’t be the only one who won’t be lamenting its demise.