DEI Executives Discuss The Current State Of DEI At Black Enterprise’s Chief Diversity Officer Summit

DEI Executives Discuss The Current State Of DEI At Black Enterprise’s Chief Diversity Officer Summit

During the summer of 2020, the words Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) couldn’t be avoided. However, in just three short years, its popularity has not only shrunk, but many on the right are attacking the term, calling it “woke” politics.

Fidelity Investments Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion Wendy John and Merck’s Vice President of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence Celeste Warren sat down with Black Enterprise Editor-in-Chief Derek Dingle to discuss the current state of DEI Wednesday during the BLACK ENTERPRISE Chief Diversity Officer Summit and Honors.

The panel started with Dingle asking John how the Supreme Court’s elimination of affirmative action programs at colleges and universities would affect corporate DEI programs. John said the decision would have a ripple effect impacting corporate offices.

“You’ve already started to see, in many cases, state public universities getting rid of their diversity officers on campus or consolidating those roles into other roles, and I think you will see corporations follow suit,” said John. “It has been the case already, starting late last year as companies considered layoffs, you saw an impact to the DEI office, whether that was suddenly DEI leaders getting additional work added to their scope that could potentially take their work away from DEI specifically or what we might consider dilution of the effort.

John added one thing she’s seen that will continue is the titles of DEI executives changing. She believes the Supreme Court ruling will empower some to challenge diversity programs within their companies.

Warren discussed how people use affirmative action as a buzzword for giving people opportunities to people who aren’t skilled enough, are inferior, or aren’t trained. However, Warren said it’s more about ensuring people of different backgrounds have equal employment opportunities.

“I hate the fact that people are throwing out the term affirmative action, and they’re lumping us all together because they don’t have the proper information, so we have to make sure we’re educating people because the naysayers basically saying you can’t do this, you can’t do that, and a lot of that misinformation gives rise to that narrative,” said Warren. “We have to fight back with education awareness and facts and data.”

In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, which sparked a summer of Black Lives Matter protests, tech companies, fast food restaurants, and even hardware stores announced DEI initiatives. Many companies have stuck to those pledges. However, some, including Applebees, and Twitter, have pulled back on DEI initiatives, laying off staff and canceling programs. Additionally, many companies that created DEI initiatives didn’t hire people of color for those roles.

According to NBC News, a survey showed Black employees represent only 3.8% of chief diversity officers overall, while Hispanic and Asian employees make up less than 8%. In comparison, white employees account for 76% of chief diversity officer roles.

Other topics discussed during the panel included how external pressures affect chief diversity officers’ decisions and how to combat burnout while on the job. According to Warren, attacks on reproductive and transgender rights by Southern states have made her job harder.

“Just recently, the legislation that was passed in Texas against transition surgery, they’ve sort of said no, so now we have to think about what that means,” said Warren. “When Roe v. Wade was overturned, we had travel benefits for women that want to go to different places to think about abortion. The partnership that we have with our government affairs, state, federal, and global, has grown immensely over the past two years. We have to stay on top of what’s happening in each state because of the impact it has on our employees.

“If you haven’t developed a strong relationship with your policy organization, you need to do that, not from the standpoint of you just educating yourself but also helping them.”

John added that as a chief diversity officer, she has to stay current with the news and how fast things can change during a news cycle.

“I distinctly remember being up late one Saturday night, and when I woke up, there had been a shooting in California at the start of the Chinese New Year, and then all of a sudden, Sunday was about strategy with our communications team and corporate affairs.”