DEI, also known as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, have become popular values that many corporations and institutions have worked to integrate into their operations, especially over the last decade. As many major corporations shift their brands and recruiting procedures to attract diverse talent, could those endeavors consequently detract from Black businesses’ efforts to hire Black talent?
Many supporters say DEI is key to establishing an inclusive and respectful environment for marginalized workers, but some critics think many companies are focusing too closely on the numbers.
Rather than fixate on how many people you can hire to diversify your personnel, they argue that the focus should be on creating spaces and opportunities for underrepresented employees to excel in individual capacities.
The History of DEI and What It Ultimately Achieves
Believe it or not, DEI is nothing new, but its resurgence is the result of a fresh awareness of racial and social disparities.
Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and #StopAAPIHate are just a few movements that set new, widespread initiatives to offset social injustice issues. DEI is just one of them.
DEI first made waves in the mid-1960s when the Civil Rights Act, equal employment laws, and affirmative action came into being, which resulted in the formation of workplace diversity trainings at companies across the nation. As time passed, the focus on tolerance and acceptance blossomed into a new appreciation and recognition of the benefits of multiculturalism.
Today, the spotlight is on inclusion and equity. Corporations and institutions that have predominantly white workforces are being encouraged to hire more diverse and underrepresented talent and ensure that those employees feel secure from discrimination while on the clock.
Some companies have established new executive roles to oversee the integration of DEI. Many have audited their recruiting practices and workplace policies to build a corporate environment that maintains equitable hiring practices, employs valuable training, and reduces prejudice and discrimination within their walls.
Many corporations dish out sizable investments to shift their brand and make DEI a priority in order to attract more people of color to employ. But can the lure of those efforts draw diverse talent away from Black businesses that may not have the means to match the scale of those hiring initiatives? Could Black businesses lose out?
Oman Frame, the director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at The Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia echoed those same sentiments.
He told Atlanta Black Star the point “is to make a space where people feel like they belong and are valued and that their whole identity matters in decisions, experiences in product and productivity, and the joy of being in a community with others.”
He noted that DEI is not an overnight fix to the overarching issue of discrimination, but its processes must be practiced long-term so that they, hopefully, take root in an institution’s foundation.
Black Businesses Have A Competitive Edge
Michelle Robinson, CEO of Resilient Resources Group, told Atlanta Black Star that because majority white-owned businesses have the resources and infrastructure to support DEI efforts and boost their brand identities, they’re able to attract more people. However, there are some things that give Black businesses a leg up and can draw attention to their unique value proposition.
“They can navigate these challenges by emphasizing a strong sense of community, opportunities for advancement, and cultural understanding,” Robinson said. “Black businesses can leverage these measures to increase their competitive advantage when it comes to attracting diverse candidates.”
Robinson added that many majority-white companies can miss a cultural identity piece that’s integral to creating inclusivity and a sense of belonging for marginalized workers, but Black-owned companies are better adept at creating those types of environments.
“When you are with a company that champions your whole self and allows you to bring your whole self to work, it allows you to really thrive,” she said.
Many corporations hopped on that DEI bandwagon after George Floyd’s untimely death, according to Robinson. Now, just a few years later, they’re starting to cut positions and resources. Many chief diversity officers whose positions were executive rank and reported directly to CEOs are being eliminated or moved to human resources.
“I think there are competing priorities now. Because of the pandemic, a lot of companies lost money, and now they’re putting resources in other places,” Robinson explained. “Studies have shown for years that those who prioritize DEI programs outperform companies who don’t. Employees want companies that champion diversity, and if you don’t, you’re missing out on that talent.”
Robinson said some companies even treated these efforts like a fad and the luster has, unfortunately, worn off.
“If your company drops its DEI program because it’s no longer popular or diversity is no longer a chief priority, what does that say about your motives?” Robinson queried.
“It’s not to say they were being disingenuous before, but many businesses are in business for profit. Some of them could have been jumping on the bandwagon. Fads come, and fads go. But DEI is not a fad. It’s detrimental to the bottom line when they’re not being champions to diversity.”
To expand their talent pool, Robinson suggested that Black-owned companies can strategically partner with external organizations to attract diverse hires.
“As an example, if you have an internship program working with the United College Fund to recruit students from these organizations, that could be a way to navigate,” she said.
Ultimately, Black-owned and -led companies will continue to carry unique attributes and qualities that majority-white companies can’t possibly match. For them, DEI might be a fad to exploit or a fundamental measure to incorporate, but for Black businesses, it’s inherent.
Corporations hiring more diverse talent is a great thing. Representation should always be a key value in every workplace setting, but Black businesses are more likely to understand their workers’ needs and advocate for their growth, advancement, and overall career success.