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'Love your enemies, for they tell your faults': DEI in 2024

Updated: May 13

At the end of each month in 2024 we’re going to be giving you something called the ‘Memo-Round-Up’. It's our insight-led analysis of the top news and stories from the last 29, 30 or 31 days.

Love your enemies, for they tell your faults:’ how to start winning over the anti-DEI brigade

Media headlines continue to transform DEI from a rather dry, corporate buzzword to a ‘political advocacy movement,’  ‘dangerous ideology,’ and even a ‘cult of diversity.’ This angle to the conversation, which is by no means new, was reinvigorated by recent events in the US, including high-profile reactions from Bill Ackman and Elon Musk to the resignation of Harvard president Claudine Gay. 

In an online landscape where the most attention-grabbing headlines win clicks, it’s worth considering what garners attention. We know from our Diversity and Confusion report that some areas of the media are negatively impacting DEI efforts, deliberately labelling its work as “woke” to stoke reactions across society, with mentions of ‘woke’ in the press on the rise on social media. 

One such indignantly-titled article puts forward the argument:

“Diversity”, “equity”, “inclusion”, “social justice”, “intersectional awareness”: when any of these words are spoken by woke theorists and their followers in Western institutions, they almost never seem to mean what they would appear to. Instead, they have become tools for enforcing a particular political project on the rest of us…Diversity and inclusion – which you would think ought to mean that members of every group have the same chance to succeed based on their talents – has become the opposite of meritocratic.” 

Something interesting about this article compared to the many similar ones we found through our social listening tools at The Unmistakables is that it directly calls out the core issue: that the shift from prioritising equality of opportunity to equality of outcome, both in education and in the workplace, is tough for those who are used to playing with an advantage. And for those who haven’t been conscious of their advantage (and who have been ignoring the data as it’s been churned out in various gender pay gap reports, government-commissioned databases on race and ethnicity, and so on) it must feel really unfair to see positive action programmes for every identity under the sun except your own. And if the headlines speak directly to your experience - why wouldn’t you give them a click, if not to satisfy your own confirmation bias?

What does this mean for DEI? For leaders in the workplace, it means being able to explain exactly why DEI is needed - not just on a generic ‘business case, moral case’ way, but in a human way that makes use of the heaps of data available to make the specific case for why your company needs DEI in order to be successful. 

We spoke to one of our clients, Katie Elliott, Managing Director at the advertising agency Mother, about how DEI is key to making strong creative work in 2024:

“Our single most important value at Mother is to come to work every day to Make the Best Work we Possibly Can. With that as our constant north star, I’m excited about two things in 2024.
First, a continued effort to evolve our own understanding and approach to cultural research; building a better, richer and deeper understanding of communities and audiences across the UK than ever before. We’ve lots of exciting things in the works on this front, and it’s absolutely at the heart of making the best, most resonant work we possibly can.
Second, a year of focusing on impactful, confident conversations about representation and inclusion. These are conversations that take time and trust, and require a commitment to continuous learning, something we’ve been really focused on building over the course 2023.”

Having those ‘impactful, confident conversations’ means paying a different kind of attention to the ‘naysayers’ of DEI to genuinely hear what their concerns are, and have a meaningful discussion to tease out what is fear and what is fact. 

Nobody changes their mind by being derided or judged. We become open to changing our minds when we are heard and understood, made to feel human, rather than an opponent. 

We end each Memo-Round-Up with the stories that caused headlines and social media traction over January:

  1. The anti-DEI movement has gone from fringe to mainstream. Here’s what that means for corporate America - Joelle Emerson explores what makes the anti-DEI narrative compelling and how to bring back the conversation from the extremes to ground we can all comfortably stand on.

  2. Business is starting to think more about ROI than DEI - Rana Foroohar makes the case for why the US Supreme Court’s decision to reverse affirmative action in universities may actually help the integrity of workplace DEI initiatives in the long run.

  3. Why has Claudine Gay resigned as president of Harvard? An explainer on what transpired in the lead up to Claudine Gay’s resignation.

What’s the memo?: 

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

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