In case you hadn’t heard, last week, President Trump published an executive order on diversity and inclusion training. This was a follow-up to an order filed earlier this month specifically for federal entities. This new order applies more broadly to federal contractors and grant recipients as well. These orders come at a particularly disappointing time since many organizations have renewed energy around diversity, equity, and inclusion issues given civil unrest in the U.S. Today, we discuss a bit about what the executive order got wrong and why D&I training is important for workplaces around the nation.
What the Executive Order Says
The Executive Order can create a lot of confusion and concerns for organizations that contract with the U.S. Federal Government. I recommend you read the order in full yourself to truly understand what it all says. However, let’s get the gist of it here.
There are some concepts that sound ok. For example, training should not teach that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex”. All D&I educators would clearly agree with this statement. Throughout the order there are some mentions of obviously inappropriate lessons that are already not occurring in any D&I training that we’ve been exposed to or have conducted ourselves.
Problems with the Order
However, the order also states that concepts around white privilege and systemic racism are also inappropriate in D&I training. Unfortunately, the U.S. does have racism in many of its systems and structures. For example, the reason you are familiar with the idea of ‘black neighborhoods’ and ‘white neighborhoods’ is because of redlining, which is a problem that still has major impacts today. If we ignore the concepts that continue to drive racial inequity in our country, how can we be expected to improve them?
The executive order makes it seem that we live in a society free of racism and sexism. However, we know that isn’t true. Buying into the idea of the U.S. not being racist is much easier than facing the reality that we do not live in a true meritocracy. You are not solely responsible for your accomplishments or lack of. Your race, gender, parents’ socioeconomic status, and more contributed to the opportunities you had. Yes, hard work is important and does help you but it’s not the whole story.
It can be uncomfortable to have conversations about race and diversity if you are a member of a majority class (think white, male, heterosexual, etc.) We get it. As white women from middle class families, we enjoy a lot of privilege in our lives. However, if you care about others and want to live in a truly fair society with opportunities available to all, we have to address the systemic issues. And D&I training in companies is one good way to start.
Why D&I Training is Important
The purpose of D&I training is not to divide employees but to bring them together. Instead, training is mean to inform and educate. It brings people together with a common goal of creating an inclusive and equitable work environment. While it can be hard to confront your own biases, it’s worth the discomfort to create a workplace where everyone can thrive. And we believe that the majority of people don’t want inequity at work. We want to feel like the best person got the promotion. We want to trust that our accomplishments are deserved. And we don’t want to be racist, sexist, or any other -ist. That’s why it’s so challenging to face our own biases – because we don’t want to be any of those things.
A focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion can also have big impacts on the company beyond being the right thing to do. We know that more diverse (and inclusive) workplaces are more creative and tend to outperform competitors. Not only are you creating an environment where employees from all backgrounds can thrive but you are giving the business a financial advantage as well. While the executive order indicates a focus on economic success, this message is completely counter what we know from the research.
What Companies Can Do
Interestingly, a lot of the language in the order can be interpreted in ways that might still allow for effective D&I training. For example, the order states “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously”. Given everyone has learned, not inherent, biases regardless of race, sex, gender, etc., if your D&I training talks about these biases across the board and how we can combat them, you technically are in compliance with that part of the order. Work with your legal team to appropriately message your training to ‘fit’ within the order’s boundaries. Use of synonyms might be helpful!
Additionally, large companies need to take a stance and use their power. We know big business has a lot of power in the U.S. so this is a time they can use that power for the greater good. Especially for companies that aren’t required to follow the order, this is a good time to continue to show your commitment to equity and inclusion at work. Stand up, raise your voices, and invest money in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many big companies have been implementing diversity initiatives for years and have seen the impacts first-hand. Don’t let an uninformed Executive Order stop all the amazing progress you have or can make!
And what can we do individually? If you can, push your employers, the businesses you buy from, and your representatives to take a stand. And, don’t forget to vote for candidates who care about societal equity and inclusion!