DE&I: What it is

DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is not a set of tasks or goals; it is a lens through which leaders must view all decisions. It’s an applied discipline that focuses on the nature of the workplace from multiple human-focused perspectives.

Thought-leaders in DEI come from various backgrounds, namely: legal studies of ethics and justice, management studies of organizational psychology and organizational development, and the social and hard sciences. Some DEI thought leaders were thrust into their positions because of circumstance, not career trajectory, and have done extensive self-study so that they can contribute skillfully. Further, DEI is a discipline that includes emotional labor. No matter how much an organization wants to approach DEI objectively, there will always be complex emotional elements that DEI practitioners must be trained to navigate.

No one is an expert in DEI simply because of their race or status or because they were the recipient of racism or hate violence. Expertise in this field requires either formal study or self-study. Many people are, however, drawn to this field because of the motivation of their own personal experience.

DEI is, above all, an applied discipline, so academics cannot evolve the conversation without the participation of employers and business leaders. DEI is also an industry whose livelihood depends on providing support to companies attempting to make a transition to a more inclusive and more equitable work environment.

DEI is a field that has an agenda: to change the structures, policies, and cultures of companies so that individuals can realize their own professional fates without having those fates predicted by race or other defined attributes of identity. Because DEI has an agenda, it’s not a strict academic field of study; in that sense, DEI is also a movement.

There are many challenges to doing DEI well in an organization. Some organizations will not agree with the DEI agenda and won’t pursue DEI beyond the compliance or optical perfunctory initiatives. Some will choose to continue business as usual instead of doing the work necessary to achieve inclusivity and true equal opportunity for all races at work. Some will simply hesitate to adopt DEI and others will outright reject it, but the outcome will be the same for both types of organizations: BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and employees from other marginalized backgrounds will not thrive in those companies.