A September executive order by the White House bans diversity and inclusion training for the federal government as well as for contractors and anyone who does business with the federal government.
The letter that accompanied the order calling for a halt to any scheduled diversity training described it as divisive, propaganda and unpatriotic.
We live in a diverse society, our workplaces continue to be more diverse, and business continues to be global. In order to do business on a global level and provide the best products and services to a diverse customer base, organizations need to help their employees learn the right skills.
While it would be great if people could discard all their biases, and see the world from other people’s perspectives, that’s not reality. We bring our biases and perspectives from the rest of our lives to work.
With more work being done virtually, or as a hybrid of on-site and virtual, the need to communicate effectively and work with people who are different is more urgent than ever. It’s easier to let go of biases in person. Without as much in-person contact we fall back on biases, and are less likely to share resources or listen to new ideas. Working across differences and developing breakthrough products and services together takes skills that can be learned. Bias awareness and mitigation are key skillsets that take training, patience and practice.
In order to support business success, the purpose of most diversity training in organizations is to:
1. Provide tools, skills and experiences to communicate and work effectively with people who are different than themselves.
2. Be aware of and mitigate unconscious bias to counter stereotypes and wrong assumptions so that everyone can do their best work.
3. Facilitate conversations amongst people from different races, genders, work functions, etc. to foster creativity, innovation and find new solutions.
4. Take actions to promote equity and build a culture of inclusion, because there can be no true success in the whole organization in a culture of inequity where everyone is not valued.
5. Increase market share. It’s crucial that people in organizations know how to do business with people from different demographics, not just the ones they are part of.
6. Increase collaboration and mutual support and eliminate tension and costly mistakes caused by miscommunication and misunderstanding between people from different groups.
In order to build a culture where everyone can be successful and contribute to the success of the organization, it’s essential that individuals understand their own biases and that every system and process be reviewed for potential bias. It may mean reworking those business systems and processes to transform or elevate the culture.
By banning diversity and inclusion training, the order not only impedes people from learning about each other, it supports demographic silos that inhibit resource sharing, new ideas and collaboration. No organization can flourish in that environment.
The killings of unarmed Black people like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other Black people just living their lives confirms that we have a long way to go to eliminate racism, fear of differences and stereotyping of Black and other people of color.
The executive order that bans diversity and inclusion is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. It promotes the idea that it’s ok to discriminate, exclude people based on demographics and act out of bias. In essence, it says that any complaint related to racism or gender discrimination is divisive, and that bringing up those topics promotes racism.
This is not based on politics but on valuing all employees, customers and their communities.
Organizations across the political spectrum that know the value and importance diversity and inclusion are to businesses have voiced their disagreement with the order. These include rhe U.S. Chamber of Commerce; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; associations representing American hospitals, physicians and nurses; the Business Roundtable; Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; and other organizations from a wide range of sectors.
If you care about diversity, equity and inclusion and want to ensure your organization builds a culture where everyone is valued and able to do their best work without having to worry about being trivialized or ignored, don’t assume all it takes is a bunch of people from different backgrounds. Be willing to put in the work, take the time and bring in people who can help.