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DEI Was Supposed to Help People Like Me. It Didn’t

My bosses wanted my Caribbean face at diversity training sessions. What they didn’t want were my actual viewpoints.

· 7 min read
Raquel Rosario Sánchez looks at the camera in a blue shirt in front of a fountain.
The author photographed by Pam Ishewood.

In February, the Calgary-based Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy published a study on the effectiveness of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), authored by David Millard Haskell, a professor of sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. Haskell reviewed decades of research into the topic, including seven studies published in well-known journals, and meta-analyses covering hundreds of others. His conclusion is that DEI training is generally both divisive and counter-productive—which is to say that it exacerbates divisions rather than healing them. In particular, he reports, DEI training tends to “increase prejudice and activate bigotry among participants by bringing existing stereotypes to the top of their minds or by implanting new biases they had not previously held.”

What DEI research concludes about diversity training: it is divisive, counter-productive, and unnecessary - Aristotle Foundation
Introduction In July 2023, public school principal Richard Bilkszto killed himself. When announcing his death, Bilkszto’s lawyer traced his deteriorating mental health and ultimate demise to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) workshops his school board required him to attend.1 Recordings show that he was harassed and humiliated by the DEI trainer for questioning one of […]

In the UK, meanwhile, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, recently received the results of a government-mandated study into the impact of DEI training in British workplaces. Many of the conclusions are consistent with those reported by Haskell.

Badenoch had asked researchers to “make the most compelling arguments in favour of good [DEI] practice, and against bad, with the best evidence and data available.” Interviewees from over 50 organizations were asked what diversity and inclusion meant to their organisations, what they were trying to achieve with their DEI strategies. (Note: DEI is often referred to by other acronyms, such as EDI, EDIC, and D&I. For simplicity, I have elected to use “DEI” in all cases.)

“There is widespread consensus that a diverse, inclusive workforce can reap meaningful rewards for businesses and employees,” the panel found. Increasingly, however, “issues of freedom of speech and expression affect [DEI] debates in the workplace, exacerbated by recent high-profile court cases...A number of participants suggested that employers, in an attempt to go ‘above and beyond the law’ in their [DEI] efforts (albeit with good intentions) were inadvertently breaking the law.”

Equally damning was evidence presented by the UK Free Speech Union (FSU), whose researchers recently found that diversity training was leading employees to hide their beliefs for fear of losing their jobs.

In a report published last month, titled The EDI Tax: How Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is Hobbling British Businesses, the FSU found that 36% of surveyed individuals had witnessed staff being penalised in some way because they’d resisted or questioned diversity training, with 12% reporting that they knew of colleagues who’d been fired for doing so. Moreover, of the 800 surveyed workers,

sixty-two per cent said they have had to conceal what they really think about the training they’ve received, including 22% (rising to 31% among Black and Asian respondents) who have been compelled to say things that they don’t really believe, e.g. said they believe it has been beneficial when in fact they think it was a waste of time.

Overall, the report’s author, FSU Director Thomas Harris, makes the case that:

many UK employees are thinking twice before contributing to workplace conversations. Genuine diversity of thought is required for any business to thrive, but much EDIC [Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Climate] training is having the opposite effect and embedding a new form of groupthink.

Being a young UK-based woman of colour from the Dominican Republic, this rings true to me. I’ve been invited to DEI meetings and trainings that were supposed to be about assisting and empowering people like me. Yet none have been positive experiences. My role at these forums, I learned, was to look a certain way, not to candidly express my actual viewpoints.

For about a decade, I’ve been providing support services to women in need—mostly those who’ve experienced assault, abuse, and trauma at the hands of men. The pay is ghastly (at least for women at my level), but I consider this kind of front-line work to be a calling rather than a job. On the rare occasions when workplace conflict has arisen, I’ve done my best to avoid it, so that I can focus on the women I’m assisting. Unfortunately, this conflict-averse attitude hasn’t always been reciprocated.  

My worst experience was at a service that employed me to work with women recovering from cocaine and heroin addiction, including prisoners set to be released into the community. When I received the invitation to join the organization’s DEI group, I had a bad feeling about what was to come, but decided to attend anyway.

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