Discerning a New Dawn for DEI

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

April 18, 2021

Technically, the phrase ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ (DEI) incorporates three distinct concepts, each of which is tied to the goal of embracing all elements into a single whole, regardless of differences or disparities:

The word ‘diversity’ describes a “condition or instance composed of differing elements;”

The word ‘equity’ describes a state of “freedom from bias or favoritism,” and the establishment of “justice according to natural law or right,” and

The word ‘inclusion’ refers to adding into a group things that were previously excluded. In populations, it refers to those people excluded because of varying abilities or different races, sexual orientations, social classes, or ethnicities.

How individual populations experience DEI efforts depends on their geographical and cultural nuances.

In the European Union (EU), an amalgamation of 27 separate nations, DEI refers to the inclusion of people from other EU states.

In Asia, the phrase often applies to the broadly diverse workforce populations of multinational corporations.

In other countries, however, more often, ‘DEI’ is used to address challenges arising from racial or tribal segregation.

Australia works to achieve ‘diversity’ in its culture by improving the inclusion of its Islander and Aboriginal peoples into its otherwise white communities while

South Africa uses it to address the lingering racial offenses and injuries caused by Apartheid.

In the U.S., the term ‘DEI’ and its individual tenets have garnered feverish attention in the past few years, as a series of killings across the country spurred unrest and protests against the appearance of racism in the country’s policing communities. These outbursts continue to multiply and grow even though the country has been ‘educating’ its people about the need to embrace DEI since at least the 1960s and the times of the Civil Rights movement.

Fortunately, there are signs that, finally, social discourse arising from the lack of DEI in mainstream society is making a difference. The year 2020, as difficult as it was, may be the year that the DEI tide will finally turn toward – truly – justice for all.


Opening Eyes and Minds to Long-Entrenched Racial Disparity

The Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM)

Although his was not the first publicly decried unnecessary death, George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota in May 2020 triggered a veritable tsunami of support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement and similar endeavors worldwide. Just as thousands of people raised the voices against the seemingly indiscriminate killing of unarmed people of color, so were billions of dollars donated to charities and non-profits dedicated to raising the social profile of racial and social injustices.

According to Candid, a global philanthropy-tracking agency, in the month after Floyd’s May 6th death, over $5 billion dollars had been committed or pledged to international racial equity organizations, an amount that equals more than half of all such donations received since 2008.

Not only is the amount raised a surprise, so are the identities of its recipients as well as many of those donors:

The “Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation” reported receiving over $90 million in 2020 and is now developing the infrastructure needed to manage those funds.

The National Association of Colored People (NAACP) received millions from Apple, Airbnb, and the beauty brand, Glossier.

The Equal Justice Initiative also received millions from Amazon and Uber.

Technology companies are not shying away from supporting a more equitable society.

Facebook pledged $10 million to racial justice agencies while

Microsoft vowed to increase its DEI investments by $150 million to double its black and African American staff numbers by 2025, accelerate its transformation to a truly inclusive culture company-wide, and enhancing the transparency of its DEI efforts and reporting.

Intel donated $1 million to support grassroots BLM groups, including Black Lives Matter.

Retailers are also contributing to finding a solution to the scourge of racism:

Walmart pledged to spend $100 million creating a center for racial equity that will enhance economic opportunities and workforce development for all employees.

Nike released a new social media video, “For once, Just Don’t Do It,” while also promising to invest $40 million over four years to strengthen and support American’s Black communities.

Target committed $10 million to the National Urban League and the African American Leadership Forum.

Stop Asian American and Pacific Islander Hate (AAPI)

More recently, the country has experienced a wave of violence against people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage. Since March 2020, over 3,700 attacks on Asians were reported, which is a jump of about 30% over the preceding year. More than half, 68%, were females, which led some researchers to surmise that the perception of Asian women as being subservient and meek may have made them more prominent targets.   

There has been a significant outcry against these attacks as well, with tech giants Amazon, Microsoft, and Xbox asserting their rejection of such actions. Additionally, prominent marketing agencies and retailers have also stepped up, with Yelp launching a new feature that allows Asian-owned companies to advertise that fact on those web pages. Coca-Cola has pledged almost two million dollars to fight Asian hate, and Etsy followed with a half-million-dollar pledge.    

It is commendable that so many globally recognized entities are donating significant amounts to equity-based organizations. However, the more accurate indicator of actual change may be their comparable commitment to doing better within their own organizations. Outwardly stating their commitment to addressing internal equity challenges notifies their customers and clients that, this time, they mean business when they assert their intention to overhaul their outdated systems. While the social drive to do this kind of good is valuable in and of itself, it may be that each of these companies also recognizes that eliminating inherent biases and prejudices may be good for business, too.

At least, that’s what the statistics are now saying …


The Rising Significance of DEI as an Economic Growth Determinant

Not surprisingly, in the months since the Floyd tragedy, researchers have been investigating the impacts that it had on social opinions, and their research indicates that consumers are as inflamed by the event as their corporate neighbors:

In one study, 60% of all Americans of all generations now assert that how a brand responds to social inequities will determine whether they buy or boycott those products or services. On another question, 60% also indicated that brands should take affirmative steps themselves to address inequalities in their communities. Another 57% believed it was also the brand’s duty to educate their public.

Another study revealed that almost 40% (38%) of U.S. consumers are ‘much more likely’ to support companies that speak out in favor of the BLM movement, and 39% will stick with companies that financially support BLM entities.

And in a Forbes survey of 1,000 American shoppers, 91% believed that the companies they shop at should actively work to create the changes necessary to combat racism, inequality, and social injustice. These consumers saw their favorite brands as allies in the fight to reduce the social angst driven by inequality. Those most fervent in their beliefs are the Gen Z consumers, who will probably comprise as much as 40% of the global shopping economy in 2021.

So, it appears that the past year of social unrest driven by racial disparities impacts the marketing and investment decisions being made by global commerce entities. It also seems that their responses are to pivot towards a more ‘DEI’ frame of mind for their entire organization, not just for their customers. These two reactions to the current social justice unrest suggest bigger, better, more sustainable DEI advances are in the future.


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