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'They're doing the work': Despite DEI backlash, companies forge on

Posted at 8:22 AM, Jan 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-06 11:41:34-05

After we saw the U.S. Supreme Court block affirmative action in higher education in June of 2023, there's been more DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) backlash in the corporate world.

It's all over the headlines. Companies are facing lawsuits alleging discrimination because of DEI initiatives, business leaders are criticizing these policies, and some reports claim companies are swapping out the DEI term for words like "wellbeing."

"The term itself has gotten to be a little bit difficult for people," said Janet Stovall, the global head of DEI at the NeuroLeadership Institute.

"A lot of them are changing terms. I mean, they respond to the backlash by changing the meaning of existing terms or introducing new ones. Some are just avoiding the terms. Some are moving away from the term."

"The interesting thing though, is they're not stopping the work. They're doing the work."

Stovall points to a new survey from labor and employment law firm, Littler which reports out of the more than 300 C-suite executives surveyed, 57% reported they've grown their inclusion, equity, and diversity programs over the past year, even though 59% say backlash on these efforts has increased after the Supreme Court's ban on affirmative action in college admissions.

Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago says it hasn't wavered in its DEI commitment to its more than 5,000 employees.

"We understand that it's just the right thing to do for our employees," said Deidre Garrett, Director of DEI at this branch which supports more than 40,000 people across Wisconsin and Illinois through employment programs and services.

"We have a Disabilities Employment Resource Group, we have a Multicultural and an LGBTQ resource group because we understand it's important to create safe spaces for our employees."

"We are really committed to infusing equity and inclusion into our organizational culture, our business operations and our mission services. And we're really committed to demonstrating our commitment, not just through our words and pledges, but through our culture policies and programs."

In a tight labor market, attracting new workers and keeping the ones you have is critical to a company's success.

"So for us, it's been important to keep it at the forefront because it keeps us innovative in a competitive marketplace and desirable from a talent attraction standpoint."

The conversation on how DEI fits into other corporations' plans, however, in many cases, is still being debated.

"I think organizations have to define the terms they're going to use no matter what," said Stovall.

"I think the language they use defines who they are. It defines the work they intend to do."

"If you do that, you not only define and show what work you're going to do, your employees get to really understand what you really mean by those terms."