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8. The Death of DEI
  • Writer's pictureAntonio Da Veiga Rocha

The Death of DEI! Really?

It feels like we’ve just started this energy that is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and already we can find articles on its death, and more broadly, social criticism pointing to its inability to accomplish what it set out to do. So it seems that the start of the fragmentation of DEI has begun. So what is happening?

3 Arguments

1. One of the arguments is that in many cases DEI is being used as a band-aide, a distraction, to cover over deeply rooted inequalities that have always assisted a privileged few. This 'few' is not looking for fundamental change, so they practice superficial cures whenever possible.

2. A second activity that is motivating this fragmentation is the infighting that is being organized by many of today’s social critics. Commentators that push practitioners of the subjects to argue against one another and challenge each other’s views, giving voice to the breakdown and distrust experienced by recipients of the practice.

3. And a third argument is that the practice of DEI has been weakened by having too much flexibility.

The Arguments in More Depth

DEI as The Band Aid

I will first say that I do, in part, support all these arguments. With regards to the band-aid effect, it is true that many companies do use DEI as an immediate action versus a long-term solution, motivated often by an instant need and in search of a quick result.

As a company that provides Diversity and Equity consultation, part of our initial work is deciphering the motivations that individuals or groups have when contacting us. Many interested parties reach out because they have urgent social working needs, ‘a leak that needs plugging’, and feel DEI is the social plug. This is because most people that see a company using DEI feel it is prioritizing the concerns of the practice, and therefor must be on the right path. But another truth is that what ends up being practiced is superficial at best. Companies are known to exercise performative gestures and pedantic overtures to sustain themselves and wait for the dying out of such popular movements.

Practitioner Versus Practitioner

With regards to the infighting, this speaks to our contemporary social need to hear and be entertained by debates. Such social actions have historically been a part of the growth of civilizations, so there’s no new paradigm here. But, the constant need to sustain the ever-growing publicly debated forums and constantly fill them with content means we are not providing space for the time and effort of things.

Pinning practitioners and DEI theorists against each other to fill airways and daily programing means content must be constantly introduced, often at the risk of rebuking one’s own efforts. Much of the signaling of DEI deaths are due to such forums, even though we have realistically barely started this social project.

Too Much Flexibility?

A better way to understand the positioning of this argument is to replace flexibility with manipulation; essentially, DEI is too open to manipulation.

To first understand the push against such ‘flexibility’ one needs to appreciate a core sentiment of DEI practitioners, which is their goal to reach social justice.

The critics feel that DEI has become a passing over activity, one that allows one to pick and choose what flavor of ice cream they want, inconsiderate of where the milk comes from. Viewing it from this lens, I too would call for its death. I am completely against the manipulation of social justice efforts and feel myself to be one of those ‘core’ practitioners. But we need to understand the difference between the two, even if they resemble at times.

Social Justice is a theory we are looking to put into practice. It occupies the space of philosophy and politics, with the intent of producing practical policies that can help govern our societies. DEI are a set of trainings which look to impact and change group and individual behavior to produce social workspaces that are more entuned and responsive to individual and group make up and need.

It is true that when I see the words of the subject being defined differently to fit an institution’s purpose, it casts doubt on the fundamental efforts that underpin the practice and their historical links. I’ve seen this many times, for example, diversity used only as a numbers game when effective diversity practice includes the diversity of ideas, of visual stimuli, of opinions, etc. It also happens with Equity, with companies re-writing definitions to fit their purpose. I guess it’s easier to speak of fairness as what pertains to one’s own needs versus what pertains to a society’s needs.

The Fuel of Contemporary Deaths

So, is the death of DEI warranted when viewing it through these three main arguments? I think not. We should all take a step back and remember a very contemporary practice, which is that of filling infotainment airtime.

Sure there are companies that use DEI as a band-aid, but so too are many other companies that have used it for its main purposes, to give light and play to much needed social change. The doors that many once thought would not be open to such practices, have been opened. Worksites where once conversations on inequality, differences, the feelings and activities of inclusion, were not only dismissed but often frowned upon, are all now making their way to company policies. These are huge steps, especially considering the short period of time with which these changes have taken place.

It must be said that much of this ‘dying’ that is being spoken about is being activated by our society’s constant need to have and give opinion. It’s sort of like ‘isms’ in intellectual playgrounds, a never-ending concourse for social intellectuals to challenge each other. It is true there is some tightening of screws that needs to be done to this DEI endeavor, but it is much too soon for the verdict to be out on its effectiveness.

Now that it seems we all have voicing portals and that we’re all nearing total opinion presence, the lifecycles between birth and the death of things are getting shorter and shorter. It is not happening only with DEI, it is a contemporary trend to hurry past the middle of things and on to their end. The beginning and end still hold the juiciest parts in the stories we tell, and the wrapping up of anything new seems to be a practice we are all becoming too familiar with. Maybe we just need to allow the story of DEI to have a middle part, and move through it to see where we go.


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