Diversity or Divisiveness?

Employer focus on DEI, however well intentioned, may have a detrimental effect on the workforce if not handled properly.  While many employers promote DEI as “the right thing to do,” it’s essential for DEI success and acceptance that the right thing is not done the wrong way.  The following are some factors to consider:

  1. Consider diversity as more extensive than a focus on protected classes.  The enrichment within a diverse workforce is more than the primary areas of focus—race, gender and sexual orientation/identity.  Expand what’s considered diverse to include interests, education, political beliefs, family background—in essence, the great variety of personal experiences that help to enrich the workplace.


  1. Be careful of specific goal targets based on protected class.  There are two primary reasons for this.  First, does it signal to others in the workplace that those selected were chosen to meet the goal and not because of their qualifications?  Specific goals may create the impression that promotions and other workplace opportunities are not awarded based on merit.  It also may create an impression that those selected could not achieve that opportunity on their own merit, what has been referred to as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”  The second reason is legal—the potential for discrimination claims.  What an organization communicates about its DEI initiatives and how employees are selected/promoted may result in discrimination litigation. What is required legally is equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. 


  1. Expand the equality of opportunity outreach.  For example, if your organization seeks college graduates in a particular field, include recruitment at HBCUs.  If your organization is seeking bids for a particular project, specifically reach out to include minority/female owned enterprises.  The selection is based on merit, but the opportunity to compete is pro-actively more inclusive. 


An expansive approach to DEI may contribute to a workplace of diverse thoughts and ideas, the outcome of which could be a better product or service and a culture employees are proud to be part of.

If you have any questions regarding how to approach diversity in the workplace, please contact Richard Lehr at 205-323-9260 or