Disagreeing on DEI, Agreeing on True Diversity

Disagreeing on DEI, Agreeing on True Diversity

True Diversity is an equality-based, holistic framework for embracing diversity. It values every person as a unique individual and empowers charitable organizations with the freedom and flexibility to advance their missions and help those in need.

In April I had the pleasure of being a panelist at an event to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and how philanthropy can support equality of opportunity.

My goal was to explain DEI and how its manifestations are detrimental to the goal of expanding opportunity, and then to present true diversity as a better approach that values every person as a unique individual.

I said the idea of diversity has been around for decades. As companies and organizations sought to increase demographic minorities in their workplaces, they implemented many different types of diversity initiatives. As I’ve written, many diversity initiatives such as bias training fail to deliver on expected outcomes and backfire in the workplace, worsening workplace cohesion, triggering backlashes and leaving minorities feeling alienated or resentful of the tokenism.

The social unrest in 2020 driven by George Floyd’s murder led to an escalation in demands for diversity to fight racial injustice. The calls were for greater equity. I explained that equity and equality are not synonymous, they are very different. Equality pursues equal opportunity whereas equity demands equal outcomes. This conversation of equity versus equality led me to several points on DEI’s failings:

  • DEI attributes virtually all average group differences — from arrest rates to medical school admissions — to systemic discrimination. Yet, we know that average group differences in outcomes can reflect a variety of factors.
  • DEI calls for judging people based explicitly on their race or sex and assigning categories of victimization (oppressed or oppressor) based on demographics of race, gender and even sexual orientation, regardless of an individual’s unique circumstances, agency and choices.
  • DEI advocates replacing classical liberal values of merit, fairness and equality. We’ve seen DEI programming and ideas take over the academy, professional organizations, media, government and large companies.

In more of its insidious manifestations, DEI has led to the chilling of free speech by silencing voices that present opposing views. The college campus is a great example. As the concepts of DEI have become guiding principles in higher education, they have supplanted the basic function of the university: the rigorous pursuit of truth. An obsession with equity has shifted attention away from pursuing groundbreaking scientific breakthroughs, patient care or workforce readiness.

Philanthropy has become ground zero for the DEI debate. Since 2020, there has been an enormous push for grantmakers to advance DEI through grantmaking with massive commitments ($16 billion in two years alone). Yet there has been no accountability for where the money has gone.

Demands for gender and racial quotas on boards, equity in organizational leadership and commitments to specific demographics are unrelated to an organization’s mission. Acquiescing to those demands may reduce organizational effectiveness. For these reasons, equity must be abandoned.

Instead, the philanthropic sector should embrace a broader meaning of diversity. As I said, “Diversity should not be a dirty word.” We must broaden the definition of diversity to encompass other dimensions of the individual beyond race and gender such as viewpoint diversity, education, experience and political views. This is true diversity. 

The Roundtable created the True Diversity campaign to offer grantmakers and nonprofits an equality-based and holistic framework for embracing diversity, rooted in five key principles:

  • Valuing every person as a unique individual not just a member of a demographic category
  • Respecting organizational diversity, donor intent and mission-focus
  • Seeking diverse perspectives not just diverse skin colors
  • Embracing conversation including difficult conversation, but not shutting down debate
  • Offering tools that empower organizations

In closing remarks, I said true diversity does not require organizations to change how they do their work or who they serve. Instead, true diversity empowers organizations with the freedom and flexibility to advance their missions and help those in need.

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