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Is DEI in the Workplace just a PR stunt?

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

There have been some life changing events over the past few years that have brought diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) to the forefront of our thoughts - George Floyd & Black Lives Matter, the Me Too and All Children Matter movements, among others. Is DEI in the workplace an authentic movement, or is it a hot topic just for looks?

First, let's look at the meaning of DEI in the workplace.

Diversity is not just rainbows and telling people you aren't racist. It's having a staff that isn't 90% able-bodied white people. If that's the case, it's important to look at your internal biases that are clearly coming through in your hiring practices. It's also about making sure that BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of colour), people who identify as LGBTQ+ and people living with disabilities feel respected within the organization. This goes beyond just hiring, but also in the day-to-day culture of the organization.

Equity is not the same as equality. Equality provides the same resources to everyone, but this doesn't take into consideration systemic discrimination and the barriers they face. Equity looks at each person's access to resources and opportunities, supporting people who are disadvantaged under systemic inequalities, and providing fair opportunities for everyone.

Inclusion is about not tokenizing marginalized people. It's about including BIPOC, people who identify as LGBTQ+ and people living with disabilities as decision makers, leaders, and part of the solutions. Increase that representation. Inclusion is truly treating all staff with the respect they deserve and making everyone's workplace accessible and safe.

It's also important to acknowledge that you may not realize that some people are part of marginalized communities. You wouldn't know just by looking at me that I live with a mental health disorder. You also don't know my sexual orientation by my appearance. Sure, some identities are more obvious, but taking into consideration that not everyone feels comfortable with disclosing this personal information, it reinforces the importance of making work a safe place for everyone.

You may be thinking, wow that sounds great! Why wouldn't a company or leader want to embody these principles?! The truth of it is, not everyone values diversity, equity, and inclusion the same way others do. If someone has lived a life of privilege, they may not understand the importance, but most notably they may not know HOW to do the work.

It's not just up to the marginalized folks to do the work. It's also up to the people who hold the privilege to dismantle the oppression marginalized folks face and create opportunities they have struggled for many decades to obtain.

There are a few ways to know whether a company is using the DEI buzzword as just a PR stunt. First, look at their website. Do they have a DEI statement or policy? Do they have any diversity on their board and on their Senior Leadership Team? Look at job descriptions and identify any troublesome language, but don't just look at jobs you're interested in. Look at a broad range of job descriptions to see if there is a pattern that can give you some clues about their culture.

There are other ways beyond just looking at their DEI statement or policy, because let's face it - those are just words. Action is what matters. Do they have a DEI Consultant on staff? Have they won any DEI awards? Do they sponsor DEI events, for example Pride. How diverse is their social media? If you do a quick Google search you may be able to find news articles about instances where they've received negative press about discrimination or a lack of diversity. How did they handle this press?

Another way to find out how genuine they are about DEI is to simply ask in an interview. Ask about their values, the workplace culture, what initiatives they have to increase DEI in the workplace, etc. It's important to read their body language and not just their verbal answers because that'll give a strong sense of their comfort in talking about DEI and how they feel about it.

If you're a leader, it's important to find ways to increase DEI in your workplace. The first place to start is to acknowledge your internal biases. There are many ways to do this. One way is to look at the people you've hired - do they all look like you? You can also do bias assessments online, like this one from Harvard University. You can do an anonymous survey of staff to get their feedback on how DEI is being handled on your team or in your organization. It's important to involve the team on this, and be sure to act on the feedback. Look closely at your hiring practices - is there anything along the process that can be viewed as discriminatory. for example including the need for an assessment but not providing accommodation.

There are plenty of other ways to implement DEI in your workplace:

  • Have the hard conversations.

  • Recognize your privilege.

  • Think about what internal biases you have.

  • Train your staff.

  • Be transparent.

  • Hold others accountable.

  • Revise your values.

  • Be empathetic.

  • Lead by example.

It can be tough work, but it's even tougher being a person that's constantly discriminated against because of their race, sexual orientation, or disability. Imagine that.


Hi, I'm Samantha, an Inclusive Leadership Coach that is eager to support you with breaking free & living a limitless authentic life after being pushed aside in society. Think of it as solution focused Coaching with a social justice twist. Whatever you want to work on, leadership or otherwise, you'll transform your life and experience shifts you never thought possible.

As a leadership junkie, I want to see an increase the number of equity deserving folks - women, BIPOC, disabled and LGBTQ+ folks - in leadership roles. I want to create the most diverse and equitable workforce where everyone can bring their full selves to work.

Book a no obligation discovery call here. Keep in touch here.

Download your Leadership Self-Assessment here.


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