What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the terms “diversity, equity, and inclusion?” Reactions certainly run the gamut, but we’d be fooling ourselves if we think references to DE&I evoke the same psychological and emotional response from everyone in the same way. While many might believe that DEI is “awesome” or very positive, there are many others who find it all a bit too abstract to fully appreciate its’ supposed “awesomeness.”
Truth be told, it’s safe to say that the phenomenon of organizations and companies embracing the basic tenets of DEI is indeed pretty awesome when it’s looked at honestly and with disciplined objectivity. To better understand how DEI presents a win-win for all stakeholders, we have to directly confront lingering misperceptions, myths, and even flat-out untruths.
With that in mind, we’ve identified five myths that persist despite consistent refutations from credible and authoritative sources. We hope this helps sway some of you with very valid questions and concerns about the realities of DEI in the workplace and beyond.
Myth #1 DEI is only about gender and race
This is perhaps one of the most pervasive, and stubborn, myths about the goals and objectives of DEI in the workplace. While it’s true that gender and race are important dimensions of diversity and inclusion, they are far from the only ones. Any DEI strategy, initiative, or program, worth its’ salt will include a multidimensional approach inclusive of every single stakeholder group—both internally and externally. In addition to the obvious dimensions of race and gender, we also consider a host of other factors like orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, geography and regionality, educational experience, life experiences, and even neuro-diversity that focuses on people with very different thought and problem-solving processes. We also consider factors like disabilities, military service backgrounds, leadership qualities, and other important dimensions of diversity and inclusion that are often overlooked.
Myth #2 DEI is just organizational “virtue signaling” and a waste of time and resources
Over the past few years, we’ve heard a lot of chatter about so-called “virtue signaling.” It’s a strange sort of pejorative since the implication is that everything about DEI is meaningless, hollow, and pointless symbolism. This is untrue. First of all, we all want to—and try to—be positive rather than negative influences on our peers and colleagues. Our job as team members includes motivating, inspiring, and supporting fellow team members—not sabotaging them. When one team member fails, the team fails, so it’s in all our interests to model positive and inspiring behaviors that drive successful outcomes rather than impede those desired outcomes, right? Further, what’s wrong with virtue—and what is so wrong with modeling virtuous social behaviors in the workplace and our day-to-day lives?
As for being a waste of time and resources, there are reams upon reams, culled over decades of rigorous study that confirm the fact that organizations with high degrees of diversity and inclusion outperform those with more homogenous people ecosystems. There’s little debate in the global business as to this fact; however, the case has to be continuously and consistently made to convince people still uncertain about it. And that responsibility doesn’t only fall on leaders, it falls squarely on everyone’s shoulders as DEI is a shared organizational responsibility.
Myth #3 DEI is just about quotas and checking boxes
Although beliefs that DEI is just about quotas or box-checking exercises have been around for decades, the recent turn in events that led to increased awareness of intentional and unintentional disparities in the workplace and society has resurrected concerns about quotas and policies like Affirmative Action in the U.S. for instance. Whether or not those concerns are valid is moot since DEI focuses primarily on equitable access to opportunity, not equal outcomes per se. It’s about casting a wider net rather than relying on fishing in the same fishing hole out of convenience, bias (conscious or unconscious), or a lack of awareness about the gifts and talents of people unlike us—or unfamiliar to us. Inclusion means that no one is left out of the equation—even those from majority-represented groups.
Myth #4 DEI has no direct correlation to the bottom-line
As previously mentioned, exhaustive research culled over decades confirms the fact that an effective and forward-thinking approach to DEI results in higher performing companies/organizations, increased innovation, and stronger more engaged workforces. For example, the positive impact on innovation cannot be understated. In this technologically-driven era, innovation is key to success and organizational longevity. We also know that employee expectations are rapidly changing; fueled in part by generational preferences, technology, and increased globalization. With the post-Pandemic “Great Resignation” still impacting the “War for Talent,” leaders are seeking new ways to attract and retain workers. A demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is among the top demands and expectations of today’s workers.
Myth #5 DEI is divisive rather than unifying
This is perhaps one of the more confusing arguments against DEI from many quarters of resistance. The rational is paradoxical at best. Avoiding contentious issues is the best way to resolve contentious issues seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? DEI is about a journey that every organization and individual undertakes. It’s not always a straight road and obstacles abound. Some of those obstacles are ones we construct ourselves. When DEI strategies are implemented successfully there is more empathy, understanding, and commitment to taking that journey together. Yes, it does require some frank talk, but more importantly, is the act of listening and learning from each other. Does that mean everyone will be holding hands and singing Kumbaya? Of course not. But it does mean everyone has a greater appreciation for the talents and potential of fellow team members to the advantage of all.
These are just a few reasons some people remain skeptical about diversity, equity, and inclusion. What misunderstandings and myths have you had to confront as an advocate for DEI? How did you address them? Let us know by leaving a comment and joining the conversation.