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Op-ed Response: Returning to the Fundamentals of DEI

This is an op-ed "reply all" to the article posted by #BillAckman on #TheFreePress, which jumped to the top of every newsfeed that was tagged DEI. With DEI under attack, we hope you review this response within the context provided.

"The solution lies in returning to the fundamentals."

I disagree with the article by Bill Ackman where he paints all DEI programs with one brush: “Under this ideology which is the philosophical underpinning of DEI as advanced by Ibram X. Kendi and others, one is either an anti-racist or a racist. There is no such thing as being “not racist.”

We know this is true for some in the DEI field, and it does permeate higher education DEI programs. However, it is not the underpinning of DEI in the corporate world but the exception. Regrettably, many DEI leaders were appointed based solely on their race and "lived experiences," lacking substantial credentials. Organizations swiftly realized that individuals lacking credibility and essential skills were unable to effectively carry out the required work. These individuals tend not to endure in such roles, prompting companies to acknowledge the importance of DEI while recognizing the ineffectiveness of this particular approach. The solution lies in returning to the fundamentals. With a background in DEI since its inception, I leverage my expertise in systems theory and organizational development, holding an MS in both fields. While I have personally encountered workplace bias as a woman, my commitment to advancing DEI transcends personal motives. Instead, it centers on aiding companies and organizations in optimizing every employee's potential, fostering a culture where everyone can thrive.

Unfortunately, Higher education has misunderstood and done more damage in the name of DEI and is now impacting all of us who work in this field. In corporations, we would not recommend hiring a less qualified person to fill a role or only look at underrepresented candidates without regard to qualifications because we know that sets the person up for failure and is not supportive of them or the company's growth. Our recommendation involves broadening the recruitment scope, exploring diverse channels, and targeting institutions with higher graduation rates among women and minorities. While acknowledging the typical educational background of leaders, we also emphasize reevaluating requirements such as extensive experience or a college degree. We advocate for economic diversity by considering first-generation college students, individuals with 2-year degrees, or veterans. Unlike universities, we discourage setting quotas or limiting hires to a specific race for a given role, recognizing that this approach can undermine success if qualifications are not prioritized. Our strategy redirects companies to focus on developing the existing talent pool, fostering an environment where all employees can advance their careers. Instead of imposing arbitrary racial quotas, we encourage the removal of barriers hindering progress. For instance, if a company already has 50% women in its workforce, the goal can be to promote 50% women in senior leadership by nurturing talent and eliminating obstacles. Additionally, the author highlights another aspect of DEI in higher education where the presumption of shielding students from debates and discussions impedes the learning and developmental process. This contradicts the core principle of inclusion, hindering the essence of DEI initiatives.

In every field, there are individuals who engage in unethical practices, necessitating the implementation of safeguards. However, it is crucial not to dismiss the entire body of work and its inherent value based on the actions of a few. A pertinent example, among many, is the realm of AI, where, despite instances of compromise and the absence of ethical guidelines, we do not advocate abandoning AI and its positive contributions. Instead, the focus should be on acknowledging the need for safeguards and implementing them. Likewise, in the context of DEI, adhering to its intended principles has been proven to enhance a company's bottom line, improve retention, boost employee engagement, foster innovation, attract new customers and communities, and mitigate groupthink. The solution isn't to discard DEI altogether; rather, the objective should be to realign it with its intended goals to harness the myriad benefits it can bring.

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