The trouble in trendifying diversity, equity, and inclusion
TL;DR: Trends come and go, which is fine for fashion, but not for diversity. DEI is more than a bandwagon to jump on—it should be central to all we do.
Gen Z made skinny jeans lame and almost single-handedly brought back wired headphones. Supermodels like Bella Hadid have made 90s fashion trendy again. Round wireframe glasses and hanging out at local coffee shops are a thing again, and as any trendy girl knows, succulents are all the rage right now.
You know what else we’ve made trendy in recent years? Diversity. The almost back-to-back murders of black men and women across the United States over the past few years sparked international Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, conversations, and lackadaisical change.
It also led to an outpouring of (temporary) support from businesses promising to hire more diverse boards, executives, and employees. Companies changed their mission statements to be more inclusive, some donated to organizations like the NAACP, and a few even made minor changes. BLM became a trend that everyone jumped on.
But much like the leg warmers of the 80s and the skinny jeans of not-so-distant yesteryear, the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trend will slowly disappear too.
DEI can’t be the next bandwagon trend
When we think of a successful business, we typically think of a company that sells a great product or service, has an innovative CEO at the helm, and goes above and beyond to ensure customer happiness. We don’t think about the teams that make that success a reality, and until recently, we didn’t consider that a more diverse employee base makes for better business.
Customers have demanded that organizations be more diverse. Companies are jumping on the diversity bandwagon to show that they support BLM. At face value, this seems like a good thing. But all these actions are doing is making diversity a trend for businesses to take up.
The trouble with trendifying something as critical as diversity is that it becomes disposable when the next big thing hits. The novelty wears off, unconscious biases resurface, and just like that, DEI is a nice to have, not a need to have.
But diversity isn’t a trend. It’s an ideal, a crucial part of any business that needs to be as permanent and valued as the finance department. That won’t happen if we keep turning it into a trend.
What’s diversity without equity and inclusion?
When companies jump on the diversity bandwagon, they often forget that equity and inclusion matter, too. Diversity is the most visible of the three, and what company doesn’t want to appear to care?
Diversity is visible in marketing images, our coworkers, and even the numbers (think about when an overeager manager brags about how many [insert minority group here] they hired).
But diversity without equity and inclusion is incomplete. Sure, you may have a few members of underrepresented groups on your team, but are you making their voices heard in meetings? Are you paying them the same salaries as their non-minority counterparts?
It’s one thing to look like you care about DEI, but it is another thing entirely to care genuinely.
Performative allyship needs to go
Just like we want everyone to notice our outfits when we try out new fashion trends, businesses also crave recognition for their efforts. But for anyone who is a staunch ally and understands what that entails, organizations seeking an “Atta boy!” for their DEI efforts make us cringe. Performative allyship has no home with diversity.
Performative allyship is when “those with privilege profess solidarity with a cause. [It] is usually vocalized, disingenuous, and potentially harmful to marginalized groups. Often, the performative ally professes allegiance to distance themselves from potential scrutiny. In many cases, organizational leaders use performance-driven activity, in a way that they believe will protect [the] company brand from being highlighted [negatively].”
Many companies do this because they want to show their customers that they’re making an effort. They want their marginalized employees to see that they’re trying. But when we treat diversity as a trend and a means to an end, we’re making no progress toward a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace.
Treat diversity as a trend, and you’ll tell your black, brown, female, Latino/a, and LGBTQIA+ employees that they only matter as long as the trend lasts.
On the flip side, if you hire diverse candidates, ensure they have a voice, and fight for pay equity, you can show them they are a valued and vital part of your organization.
Break down the barriers to hiring and supporting marginalized people, and take the time to check your biases. It shows employees (and customers) that DEI is more than a trend for you.
Trends come and go. Diversity needs to stay.
I don’t miss the pencil-thin eyebrows of my youth or the stick-straight hair trend that had me frying my hair to death every day. Those trends can stay gone, but diversity—trend or not—needs to remain.
It’s not a trend to try out to make ourselves look good. It’s not a trend we should use to earn more business (and money). It’s paramount, necessary, and honestly, it’s about damn time we started revering it the same way we do our business financials.