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The New, Frightening Attacks on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

| Co-Founder & CEO  
Before founding Paradigm, Joelle was a civil rights lawyer. Joelle’s legal background highlighted the consequences that can result from companies failing to consider diversity and inclusion early, and inspired her to found Paradigm.


Over the past decade, corporate America has invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion at an unprecedented rate in an effort to chip away at social inequity and better reflect the values of employees and consumers.

Does DEI Work?

While many companies prioritized these DEI initiatives for moral reasons, most have also come to realize that meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts drive better business outcomes. A comprehensive body of both real-world and experimental research has shown that diverse teams are both more profitable and more innovative. It also shows that when people feel included at work, they are more engaged and committed to their employer. And my organization’s own research, as well as research from Glassdoor, shows that a commitment to DEI initiatives helps companies attract, engage, and retain talent.

While the ethical and business benefits of DEI training are clear, corporate investment in this area has had no shortage of detractors. Critics have tried out a range of arguments, claiming DEI efforts give unfair advantages to people from underrepresented groups (they don’t), distract from core business priorities (they don’t), or are even themselves racist (they really aren’t).

DEI Training and Legislation

These aren’t just salacious fringe views being promoted for clicks. They are informing legislation and policy nationwide. When former President Trump’s 2020 executive order aimed at stopping DEI training went into effect, government agencies and contractors scrambled to try and comply, shutting down programs designed to close inclusion and equity gaps (this executive order has since been overturned). Florida’s Supreme Court has dissolved its standing committee on fairness and diversity. States like Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas are all entertaining legislation to chip away at other DEI initiatives.

DEI is Not To Blame

Over the past two weeks, critiques of diversity, equity, and inclusion have evolved again, this time into an even darker narrative. Politicians and columnists have blamed both a train crash and a bank collapse on DEI. In one of the most egregious examples, a columnist at one of the most prominent financial publications in the world posited, “In its proxy statement, [Silicon Valley bank] notes that besides 91% of their board being independent and 45% women, they also have ‘1 Black,’ ‘1 LGBTQ+’ and ‘2 Veterans.’ I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess, but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.”

With both the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, what actually went wrong was well-documented, but that hasn’t stopped politicians and pundits from using DEI efforts as scapegoats for completely unrelated catastrophes. Some are promoting a new rallying cry, “Go Woke, Go Broke.” By making DEI out to be a powerful bogeyman that can derail trains and banks alike, the goal of these activists is clear: to blame people of color, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and even veterans for whatever challenges we might be facing as a society.

This all comes as companies in the private sector — the entities that stood firm in their commitment to DEI when it was under attack in 2020 — have quietly cut back their investment on DEI in the past few months.

Why Reinforcing DEI Matters

For people that aren’t directly impacted by these attacks on DEI, it can be tempting to just sit back and watch how everything plays out. To hope that the long arc of the moral universe will ultimately bend towards justice, and to avoid giving attention to absurd, baseless claims. But these anti-diversity claims have a growing audience, and people whose identities and lives are directly threatened — and who are already disproportionately impacted by layoffs — can’t afford to wait and see what happens when more and more of their own colleagues start to wonder if diversity is really a good thing.

Now more than ever, it’s time for companies to reaffirm their commitments to DEI and stand firm on their values. If leaders remain dedicated to building more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations, they’re not only doing something that’s proven to be good for business — they’re countering a dangerous anti-diversity narrative that will have frightening ramifications for both organizations and our broader world.

Your Comprehensive DEI Strategy

At Paradigm, we offer a complete suite of solutions to transform your company culture and implement DEI training programs that create a more equitable workplace. Contact us today to learn more.


March 30, 2023

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