How to do DEI and not go DOA

by Chris PehuraC-SUITE DATA — 2024/02/03

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There’s been a lot of talk about DEI lately about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. And quite a bit of it that doesn’t sound good. DEI comes from a good place. A place of empathy. A place of ethics. The problem is that now it’s getting such a bad rap, that people are very resistant to taking on anything related to DEI. But because of the nature of DEI and where it comes from and where it’s going, a form of it is going to need to stick around. So we need to take a peek at DEI and see how we can avoid DEI going DOA.

Diversity Equity and Inclusion. It’s getting a pretty bad rap. And it’s pretty justified. If you look at what’s being said about DEI, you’ll begin to question if you should be doing it. 60% of Fortune 100 companies have a position called the Chief Diversity Officer. The Chief Diversity Officer works with other other executives and key leaders within the organization to help establish and drive diversity, equity, and inclusion related initiatives. That’s only 60%. That’s almost half. Just in the last year alone, 18% of Fortune 100 companies reduced their support for their DEI initiatives. Something’s going on about DEI that a lot of people don’t want to talk about.

News Stories. You look at other news stories about products where they have DEI messaging. Consumers are getting hostile towards such messaging. that they’re going on boycotts. they even sell apps you can download on your phone that help determine what sort of messaging a product has compared to the messaging the company has for that product. So DEI is becoming more at the forefront. It is becoming more transparent to people. This has kickstarted concerns from parents. They’re now much more sensitive about seeing DEI, especially in what their kids are learning may it be from the schools, from YouTube, and from TV. Like even look at Disney. Look at the content and the messaging within Disney’s products. look at Star Wars. Look at their Marvel franchise. DEI and the messaging of DEI are becoming more and more predominant in these products. In schools, you’d expect kids to be learning about math, reading, and writing. You wouldn’t expect them to be trying to understand complex concepts from DEI before they learn the basics.

Lastest News. Even today I saw a news story about an airline company hiring pilots based on diversity criteria. People are concerned people are saying well if my pilot isn’t white I’m scared the plane will crash. And then in the same breath say well I didn’t used to think that way. This is the impression people are getting about DEI. But it’s not the fault of DEI.

The problem. DEI is a body of knowledge loosely coupled together. A bunch of concepts, proposals, and ideas scaffolded together. Because of this loose coupling, there’s a big steep learning curve when people get into DEI. There’s a learning curve for the experts. There’s a learning curve for companies that want to incorporate DEI within their organizations. The thing is that DEI is a lens. It’s a tool to help fix systemic problems. So please don’t blame DEI. Blame those working in the DEI space. Blame those who are unqualified, incompetent, or just plain bad actors. If someone says DEI is the problem don’t believe them. But even knowing that makes it hard for people to start accepting DEI as a useful tool.

Conspiracy Theories. There are a lot of conspiracy theories about DEI. That DEI is a global Marxist plot integrated with ESG. Or it’s a political tool used to cancel by the alphabet mafia, the 2SLGBTQ community. Or that DEI is a form of brainwashing that they’re going after the youth. These are beginning to become very entrenched in people’s ways of thinking. I don’t like that DEI is becoming the Boogyman. That’s very hard to undo.

Fail in Business Engineering. I work as a business engineer. Business Engineers solve systemic problems within companies. And that’s why I like DEI. DEI provides ideas, concepts, and possible solutions to solve systemic problems. My challenge is that a lot of what DEI says is a systemic problem sounds more like a symptom and not the underlying problem. So to make DEI work within a company you have to set constraints on DEI and integrate DEI with what’s already there at the company. A lot of DEI initiatives don’t do this.

Diversity is a Cost. We have diversity. This is diversity in ethnicity, culture, beliefs, experiences, and perspectives. This is not diversity in ideas and skill sets or how people can contribute. You need to have ideas. You need to have skill sets. You need to have innovations. That’s how companies have typically made their money. That’s how they generate revenue. So to stop diversity from just being a plain cost and to be a revenue stream you need to connect the organization from a work structure perspective, from an innovation culture perspective.

Equity doesn’t scale. Equity is where you remove hurdles for people to help accelerate their progress so that they achieve and succeed with opportunities. Equity is targeted to specific identity groups which is fine but equity on its own is very hard to scale up. It’s easy to do with teams of people but once you start talking about departments and groups of departments you discover there’s competition. There’s competition for resources. There’s competition for capacity. There’s competition for time. There’s competition for people and leadership support. There are just too many people asking for help and support so it’s very difficult to do equity. This makes equity end up being a high cost. So you need to constrain the cost of equity.

Inclusion needs Manpower. Inclusion is where you openly accept people for who they are. You accept their perspectives, their contributions, and their input. It’s very expensive and difficult to combine everyone’s contribution and keep moving forward to meet your due dates, to meet your deadlines, and to meet your milestones. You have to constrain who contributes and when they contribute. And doing so requires you to hire significantly a lot more people.

Going DOA. The biggest challenge to DEI is that it turns into a cost. It doesn’t turn into an investment. It is not a revenue stream. For DEI to work and for it to be successful, it needs to tie to the financial outcomes of a company. It needs to help a company make money. It needs to help a company advance within the market. DEI being divorced from financial outcomes is not the fault of DEI. You don’t want DEI to be a cost. You want it to be an investment. When things get tough, costs are cut and investments aren’t. You want sustainability. And this is the big problem that a lot of companies have now. DEI is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable because it is disconnected from the financial outcomes and the financial health of the company. For anything fundamentally to change for a company, it needs to be able to stand on its own.

DEI Fails. When DEI fails, people are going to say well it’s the training that people were resistant to the training. Or they’ll say that it was the leadership, they weren’t committed enough. No, that’s not any of it. It’s because when people take the training they see there is no connection between how they perform and how they succeed relative to DEI. They don’t see a connection. It also doesn’t help that in DEI training there is self-reflection in such a way that is counterintuitive to people who perform very well within organizations. Rather than helping them be more productive, the DEI training lowers morale. You never want your training to lower morale. You want the people to get hyped up. You want people to have high morale after the training. But this is not the case with a lot of DEI training. Leadership commitment is not the problem. Leadership is constrained by capacity. Leaders can’t be thinking of everything all the time. They are constrained by the resources that they have available. They’re constrained by their time. They’re constrained by their relationships with other leaders. Leaders are paid by performance so they will do things things that help them perform. Since DEI does not support leaders and their performance to reach their objectives leadership has very little incentive to support DEI. DEI… Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, its natural outcomes are not good for a company. It results in no commonality. It results in friction between identity groups. It results in people self-segregating in terms of who they work with and how they work together. DEI doesn’t support unity. It supports division.

Secret Sauce Solution. We need to constrain DEI to avoid these natural outcomes. To constrain DEI and have it fit and work within the company, you can look at other things that share similar outcomes as DEI. For instance mergers. Mergers cause cultural fracturing just like DEI does. You can look at what they do for mergers in terms of how they transition their culture and how they change their culture. You can look at the field of conflict management and incorporate stronger policies to de-escalate friction, to de-escalate conflict within your company. When you have different people working together, especially from a DEI perspective, there is going to be conflict. People are not going to get along, so you need to be able to contain that and manage that. You don’t want to default with having people take DEI training and have that be the discipline, having that be the punishment. And you should consider the voice of the customer. How the voice of the customer represents a specific customer group from your market. How do you incorporate the voice of your customers within your company? Use that as a cornerstone for your DEI strategy. So take your pillars from mergers, conflict management, and the voice of the customer. Find the intersect. Find the balance. Then plug DEI into it. This will make DEI sustainable. This will make DEI an investment. And Investments do not go DOA.

Self-Sustainability. If DEI fails within your company don’t blame DEI. Blame the people who were involved in integrating DEI into your culture and work structure. They didn’t do their due diligence. The only way DEI will work is if DEI is sustainable on its own. That it has minimal leadership support. This means DEI must be a revenue-generating initiative. This means the costs for DEI need to be contained through automation and possibly artificial intelligence. For DEI to work, you need to rely on trainers familiar with culture change first then conflict management second.

With DEI it is very natural for people to not get along. The moment you see an environment where everyone is getting along, and everyone is on the same page, you no longer have diversity.

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