Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

The term “DEI” is an acronym for the phrase “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” The term has very different meanings and connotations for different people. The term is particularly relevant in the context of business and education. Within many companies and at many universities, there are DEI committees, training, and guidelines. 

To some, the focus of DEI committees and training is to make these environments more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. By creating a more inclusive environment, they believe they are not only improving the productivity and quality of life of participants, but also uplifting society by showing historically underserved minorities they too can achieve great things. 

Others, however, see DEI initiatives as placing a focus on identity signifiers instead of merit, achievement or ability. By focusing on inclusion within a specific group rather than on individuals, they think this work increases divisions by setting groups against each other. They see it as the opposite of the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Since all three of the components of DEI have different meanings and connotations for different people, there are significant discrepancies in what different people believe is the true purpose and meaning of DEI.

For many on the liberal left, DEI has a positive connotation. Many on the liberal left feel that the standard implementation of DEI tends to align with their views. Undergirding their belief in the need for DEI initiatives is their belief that straight, white men generally have an unfair advantage in society, as evidenced by their disproportionate employment in top positions in the realms of wealth and power. They attribute this to a heteronormative, capitalist patriarchy, which they see as oppressive toward minority races, women, and LGBTQ individuals. Therefore, the liberal left believes that a focus on DEI, usually through trainings and guidelines, is important in creating diverse, inclusive environments and helping underrepresented or oppressed groups move towards equity, ie, gaining proportionate status and power in society relative to overrepresented groups. Many also believe that creating more inclusive environments will foster creativity and combat interpersonal prejudice by creating more cohesive, empathetic, and dynamic teams. Diverse team members cannot fully contribute, this thinking goes, if they do not feel included in their group.

For some leftists or those further to the left, DEI has become an overused phrase that lacks any sort of substance or indication of actual action. While many leftists believe that the individual concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion are important, many perceive the term DEI to have become shallow. For example, many believe that companies are promoting their focus on DEI as an easy way to improve their reputation, often without taking any actual steps to truly improve diversity, create equity, or increase inclusivity.

For many on the right, DEI does not have a positive connotation. One significant issue that those on the right have with DEI is that they believe it to push leftist revolutionary views of society, in which a person or group can wield their supposed status as a member of an oppressed group (usually based on identity signifiers such as race, sexual orientation and gender) to shift the power dynamics in society. In this view, DEI is a radical movement to dismantle our current system, in which people gain status and power in society based on competence, hard work, capability, and individual merit — not perceived victim status — and to instead implement a system in which claiming victimhood or membership in a supposedly oppressed group will award someone unearned advantages. 

Many on the right argue that in actual practice, the diversity and inclusion aspect of DEI is actually exclusionary and promotes lack of diversity. They claim those adhering to DEI do not support or encourage diversity of viewpoints or political beliefs, especially in regards to conservative views and perspectives. They see supporters of DEI as silencing or vilifying conservative perspectives in workplaces and academic institutions that are supposedly committed to inclusion of all. Many believe this to be especially prevalent at the university level, where they feel that the focus on DEI silences those who hold alternate or right-leaning views and limits free speech. Furthermore, many also believe that DEI training and guidelines implemented by companies and universities are simply a means to improve reputation, safeguard against claims of discrimination, appeal to those on the left, or satisfy left-leaning financial institutions that rank companies based on environmental, social governance (ESG) factors.

Those on the right may not disagree with the underlying principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but disagree with what they perceive to be the leftist or liberal agenda associated with how those principles are implemented in workplaces and institutions today. 

Some are worried about the psychological impact of DEI work. To the extent that DEI programs identify people by group and exclude some non-conforming attitudes while accepting others, it actually promotes emotional stress and mental unwellness by encouraging conformity with DEI ideas and to their established identity group.

Many from across the spectrum who oppose or have reservations about DEI share many of these underlying principles, but believe the results of the current programs will ultimately have the opposite result of what is intended. Rather than increasing diversity, equity and inclusion, they think it may reduce diversity of thought, create a mindset of victimhood that leads to less accomplishment (less equal), and teach people to exclude people who do not share their perspectives on diversity and other issues.