At best, throwing together a quick-fix DEI program will result in lost money and time due to a lack of support or commitment from leadership. At worst, it can lead to reverse discrimination lawsuits.
What is reverse discrimination?
According to FindLaw, reverse discrimination is when “members of a majority or historically advantaged group (such as white individuals or males) are discriminated against based on their race, gender, age, or other protected characteristic.”
It is considered discrimination in any employment situation where one person is favored due to factors other than their qualifications and work.
Does DEI promote reverse discrimination?
In short, no.
If done right, DEI, or diversity, equity, and inclusion should not discriminate nor promote discrimination against anyone. DEI values diversity of thought and the differences between individuals and strives to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed at their workplace. Specifically, the “I” or “Inclusion” ensures that everyone feels included enough to share their professional opinions and create a better work culture. Because people of color, women, the disabled, and the LGBTQ+ community have historically been discriminated against in the workplace, they have been used as examples to help bridge the discrimination gap. However, discrimination is not limited to just those populations (for example, socioeconomic factors can affect everyone).
Despite the data, DEI has a bad reputation for reverse discrimination cases. For example, the $25.6 million wrongfully terminated lawsuit for the white regional manager following the arrest of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks in 2018. You can read about other discrimination cases here.
In many of these cases, DEI was done wrong. Because many companies panic or chose to hop on the “DEI Trend” without first thinking about what they hope to accomplish, they continue to make costly mistakes that are misleading and damaging to DEI’s real mission.
How can I make sure my DEI Program doesn’t promote reverse discrimination?
DEI should be treated like any other program and initiative in the company; through research, professionals, and KPI’s. While the underlying “moral” mission is to create equal opportunities for all people, carrying out DEI should be data-based, not feeling-based.
Some examples of data-based DEI are:
Providing training to ensure all employees and leaders are on the same page regarding what is considered discrimination.
Creating clear company policies of what happens when an individual or group is discriminated against.
Using KPIs to determine the progress of DEI initiatives, such as retention rates of current diverse employees. (Not hiring quotas!)
Creating employee surveys to analyze what employees really need from leadership to create a better work culture.
To take it a step further, we recommend creating a DEI Strategy that incorporates your company mission. DEI should be customized to the company’s values and shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter program that executives feel pressured to distribute. A great example of DEI is Gatorade’s initiatives. If done right, DEI can generate more revenue, increase retention rates, and create a better reputation for your company.