Recent DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) Challenges in an Increasingly Polarized Nation

    Published on:

    Summary / Abstract.   I have been asked by several clients lately for discussion and suggestions as several states continue to shut down publicly funded diversity work and the Supreme Court recently ruled Harvard’s and University of North Carolina’s diversity focus in admissions as unconstitutional. As DEI critics become more vocal and emblazoned, organizations are starting to worry about how that can impact their DEI efforts.  In addition, our nation has become deeply divided over politics with much of the discussion being around demonizing certain groups of people.

    This article explores the following discussions in more detail:

    • The increasing criticality of the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and how to respond to the DEI critics.
    • Now that there are more Gen-Zers in the workplace than baby boomers, what are their expectations around DEI?
    • As business becomes more global and businesses address labor shortfalls with immigrants, how do we reframe the hateful rhetoric that in increasing about immigration?
    • Finally, with the increased polarization, how can people from all sides of the political spectrum work together effectively with respect in an organization.

    Key Points in Response to the Recent Anti-DEI BacklashInterestingly enough, over the past decades, it has been the business world taking the lead on DEI efforts as our governments and religious institutions have failed us. And at this juncture, it will need to be corporations taking the lead on fighting this harmful anti-DEI backlash.

    I make three major points when asked about how to address this anti-DEI movement:

    1) No one can deny the demographics – our country is becoming increasingly diverse:

    • Some time around 2040 or 2042, the US will be a “minority-majority” country; the African-American, Asian and Hispanic populations will outnumber white Americans.
    • According to a 2022 Gallup poll 20% of adult Gen-Zers (people between 18 – 26 years old) now outwardly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
    • And every decade since the 1960s, both the percentage and raw number of people living here born outside the US has increased.
    • We cannot hide from this fact and need to be ready to manage a more diverse workforce and serve an increasing diverse customer or client set.

    Studies show that well managed diverse teams deliver better business results.

    2)  The DEI naysayers are reacting more out of fear of losing power and influence instead of focusing on the positive aspects of diversity. Diversity is what has made the USA unique and strong; people coming from all over the world bringing their ambitions and ingenuity. And in the business realm, many studies show that well-managed diverse organizations out- perform homogenous ones. One of the most often quoted series about this is from McKinsey & Company, with their 4th study “Diversity Matters Even More: The Case for Holistic Impact” published December, 2023.

    3) The DEI naysayers frame the discussion as “we vs them” instead of “everybody is a valuable part of the diversity mix.” Diversity includes everybody, and should never be a discussion of the diverse vs. the non-diverse. Every single person is a unique combination of all their intersectional diversity attributes and hence has something special to offer. Everyone should ask, “what makes me unique, and what special strength can I contribute to the enterprise?” And when everyone brings their full selves to the organization in a positive way without demonizing, the results can be phenomenal.

    Let’s now all work together to value and leverage the diversity that all of us bring to our world!

    What are the expectations of the new generation that is now growing in the workforce?  They will be driving the DEI discussion.  I now want to add to the discussion triggered by an article recently publish in North Carolina’s Triangle Business Journal.  It was actually the cover story and titled “A New Generation, A New Workplace” written by Laura Brummett. The tagline on the front page read, “Starting this year, Gen Z will make up a larger portion of the U.S. workforce than baby boomers. But are companies ready for this change?”

    The first statistic shared in the article, is that this year, the Gen Z (people 27 years and younger) population in the workforce surpassed the number of Baby Boomers (ages 60 to 78.) And not only that, I’d like to add a point that I raised above around changing demographics … that this younger generation is much more diverse; over 50% are people of color, and over 20% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

    The TBJ article raises many critical points about this growing younger workforce. They include:

    • This new generation is known for caring about social issues, such as diversity initiatives and sustainability.

    • This generation is leading to a more progressive culture to seep into the corporate world.

    • Savvy hiring managers seeking the best talent are now looking for grit, curiosity and ambition from candidates, instead of the names of prestigious schools or grade point averages. This shift results in companies bringing in more diverse talent pools.

    • Diversity in talent brings different workplace perspectives that drive innovation and transformation.

    • Employers are now increasingly seeking talent from community colleges, where 50% of graduates are first-generation college attendees and even more diverse than the general Gen Z population.

    • Gen Z-ers are more entrepreneurial and willing to change companies, so organizations wanting to retain and grow excellent diverse talent need to provide this generation what they want from a job. This includes continual learning and growth as well as work-life balance.

    As we continue to understand the generational shift in the workplace, DEI strategy and execution become increasingly critical. Those who are part of this anti-DEI movement will soon find themselves obsolete, unable to recruit top young talent, and ultimately less relevant and less profitable.

    Next, how do we address this increasingly hateful rhetoric about immigrants.  How do we reframe the discussion?  There currently is so much hate in American politics about so-called illegal immigration. People are in an uproar calling their fellow human beings animals and asserting false claims that most of these immigrants crossing the border without documentation are drug dealers and criminals, and stealing jobs away from long time American citizens. I would like to offer a different view.

    The United States has always been a country of immigrants. That is how we grew decade after decade. Many immigrants in the early years came from Europe, and then there were those forcibly brought from Africa against their will as enslaved people. In later years, immigrants came to California from Asia, and now more recently from Mexico and Central and South America.

    Throughout our history, immigrants were people of creatively and ambition seeking a better life. It takes a lot of character and determination to leave your home and travel thousands of miles to a strange land. Throughout our history, immigrants came with a strong work effort and creativity that added to our national growth.

    Now let’s think about these individuals and families trekking across thousands of dangerous miles with only the clothes on their backs to attempt to cross into the United States of America. This act itself shows determination and initiative. Lazy unambitious people would not dare attempt such an arduous trip!

    And now think about the jobs these new immigrants are willing to take on. Though many are well educated professionals, many also will work on our farms, in our hotels, in our restaurants, and in the building and landscaping industries. Of course, I do not want to stereotype people, but frankly if immigrants were not continuing to come into the US, crops would rot in the field, and these “immigrant haters” would complain endlessly about not getting served in the restaurants they frequent and not being able to find reliable lawn and garden service.

    Yes, we seriously do need immigration reform and some reasonable way of addressing the ongoing flood of immigrants coming into our country. But demonizing fellow human beings and discussing the issue using hateful rhetoric instead of discussing facts and forming solutions in a mature way is harmful and unhelpful.

    Let’s discuss, address and debate the immigration issue in a mature way seeking a solution to this issue instead of spreading vitriolic hate.

    And finally, with the increased polarization, how can people for all sides of the political spectrum work together effectively with respect in an organization?  Our country continues to get more divided and polarized around politics. Rhetoric continues to get more explosive as some politicians refer to their fellow Americans as scum and vermin. Not only are we getting divided around issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, but even current events such as the Israeli – Palestinian conflict are causing deep divisions. How are we to navigate this in workplaces where we are trying to teach respect for all, and valuing and leveraging our differences?

    Here are my three key takeaways:

    1) No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there are non-negotiables everyone in an organization must agree on. If you are working for an organization, you have to agree on the mission, vision, purpose and goals of the organization. That is what unites all diverse employees in any organizations. Everyone needs to be working together for the organization to achieve its goals and fulfill its mission.

    2) Realize that people with a wide range of political views also have diverse ways of thinking about and analyzing issues and problems. At work, everyone should be around the table contributing their best ideas of how to improve the product, provide better customer service, win new customers, increase revenue, reduce expenses without compromising on quality, etc. When people can share ideas and listen to each other with open minds, and diverse view points come together in a respectful way, the best solution often emerges.

    3) Focus on the positive contributions each unique person with their differences can bring to the at table. Because you see things differently than I do and think differently than I, you may see things I don’t see. You have perspectives and ideas that I may not have, and if I listen to you with an open mind, we can collaboratively arrive at a better place. Because you are different from me, you may be able to serve some of our clients and customers better than I can.

    One final point, it is never acceptable to cross that line where you demonize and devalue a person because they are different from you. Once you call me stupid, or scum because I am different or have different viewpoints, all bets are off … you no longer have a place in the organization.

    Conclusion.  With such compelling business rationale, organizational leaders need to ignore the anti-DEI clamor coming mostly from politicians and make the decisions so that their organizations succeed. 


    Leave a Reply

    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Stan Kimer
    Stan Kimer
    Stan Kimer is a dynamic professional renowned for seamlessly blending a fervor for personal growth with unparalleled business acumen, propelling enterprises towards heightened efficiency and profitability through comprehensive engagement strategies. With expertise spanning employee development, career mapping, diversity management, and organizational effectiveness, Stan serves as the Vice President of Training at the National Diversity Council (NDC) since August 2019. In this capacity, he consults with clients, manages diversity and inclusion training discussions, and personally conducts various training programs, including Inclusive Recruiting and the Employee Resource Group Academy, while contributing to the NDC Certification Program faculty. Additionally, as the President and Owner of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer since October 2010, Stan spearheads a consulting practice dedicated to pioneering approaches to career and skills development, LGBTQ marketplace and workplace diversity, and organizational effectiveness. His commitment to these domains is highlighted on his website: Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer. Notably, Stan's illustrious 31-year tenure at IBM, culminating as the Director of Sales Operations, Global Business Services in 2010, underscores his extensive corporate experience. During his tenure, he also served as the Corporate Diversity Manager for GLBT Diversity Programs from 1999 to 2003, leading initiatives that promoted inclusion and understanding. Educational accolades include an MBA in Finance and Accounting from the University of Chicago (1979) and a BS in Management Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology (1977). Committed to continuous learning, Stan actively participates in professional organizations such as TODN (Triangle Organizational and Development Network), TSHRM, and Greater Raleigh HRA. His impressive skill set is underscored by numerous endorsements for leadership development, change management, project management, coaching, strategic planning, and diversity-related expertise. With a steadfast focus on inclusivity and a proven track record, Stan Kimer stands as a respected authority in the realms of diversity, leadership, and organizational effectiveness.