There is something gratifying about recent headlines pointing to the demise of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) jobs.

This writer does not cheer layoffs, but the rising number of unemployed DEI “experts” signals an end to something we will not miss.

The free market is moving past emotional hiring and rejecting aimless race-centric programming that spiked overhead costs but destroyed workplace unity.

Maybe now organizations can focus on mission rather than faux social justice.

During the so-called “racial reckoning” touched off by George Floyd’s murder in 2020, corporations announced massive donations to social justice causes as well as increased DEI hiring goals.

Large deep-pocketed firms and smaller companies felt moved (or pressured!) to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to what they believed was the just cause of equality for Blacks. For example, in 2020 Comcast promised $100 million to fight injustice and inequality ($75 million in cash and $25 million in media) over the next three years.

Corporate America, academia, and the charitable sector also launched into a DEI hiring bonanza. According to LinkedIn’s trends, the number of diversity and inclusion officers has grown by 168.9% in 2020 and 2021.

That tendency has since started to reverse as these roles declined by 4.5% in 2022.

Seeking to improve internal racial diversity headcounts and business practices, DEI staff and consultants were tasked with expanding talent pipelines of minorities, implementing anti-bias or anti-racism training, and weighing in on product development or marketing.

Tech companies flush with cash from significant new online spending during the pandemic beefed up hiring of racial minorities in hopes of diversifying a sector where two out of three workers are white.

Increased adoption of remote work during the pandemic offered tech and other companies the opportunity to hire talent from other parts of the country and from minority groups who were underrepresented.

These aims may sound noble, but ultimately, they were counterproductive in elevating identity politics over individual merit. And bad policies, even if motivated by good intentions, will not lead to good results.

Employers acted out of emotion and lacked a vision for what desirable outcomes should be. In the haste to appear to be responsive, they likely did not ask themselves many questions. 

  • Are we trying to address a specific problem with our workforce or just virtue signaling?
  • Do the DEI professionals being hired have solutions to address our specific issues?
  • When backlashes ensued by their workers did they consider whether aimless top-down initiatives were breeding resentment in the workplace?

These were predictable outcomes.

Writing in 2016 for Harvard Business Review, researchers explained why diversity programs failed in corporate America, “Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s — which often make things worse, not better.

“Firms have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers . . .  laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out.”

Four years later, the amorphous idea of diversity had been supplanted by diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Whereas the former sought to grant all people equal access to opportunity without racial discrimination, the latter sought to guarantee equal outcomes using discrimination as a tool.

The goalpost keeps moving.

It’s no longer enough to even practice DEI, organizations must pledge allegiance to the concept of anti-racism–the two are different apparently.

Anti-racism targets white supremacy. Being an anti-racist means working to minimize the influence, presence, and voice of white people.

From calling mathematics and standards of professionalism (such as punctuality) forms of white supremacy to antiracism training, the adoption of these absurd ideas has led to harsh and deserved backlash.

These tactics do not help Blacks and minorities find work or gain the building blocks for economic mobility.

They do not change hearts and minds.

Yet, this is what the new DEI professional class has peddled delivering poor or counterproductive results.

Fast forward to 2021. Layoffs in tech have reportedly disproportionately affected business-side positions such as human resources and DEI positions.

One study finds that one in three DEI professionals lost their roles in 2021. In comparison, non-DEI workers experienced a lower attrition rate of 21%.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down affirmative action in college admissions are likely to bleed over to hiring and DEI initiatives.

The chilling effect of the decisions on these efforts is evident.

Diversity initiatives and DEI have been ineffective because they focus solely on the superficial traits of race and gender as a shortcut for diversity.

They were never about achieving true diversity which reflects the kaleidoscope of characteristics and experiences that make individuals unique. Diversity of thought, socio-economic background, and experience enrich organizations in ways that improve outcomes.

There is room for genuine efforts at True Diversity and organizations are pursuing them.

Hopefully, employers will value individuality and be more intentional about assembling people of different viewpoints and backgrounds.

At the very least, as a society, we are moving closer to banishing the insidious race-based discrimination promoted by DEI and antiracism.