It is hard to ignore the overwhelming prevalence and potency of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the modern workplace. As Microsoft’s recent showcase demonstrated, progressive ideas and values can overshadow and even hijack an event to an embarrassing degree where presenters talk about Native American tribes and their preferred pronouns instead of the software they’re trying to sell. Employers and employees are devoting an increasing portion of their time, attention, and resources towards DEI, and it’s becoming increasingly prominent in the NHS, the Civil Service, schools, the Royal Family and even Marks and Spencer.
The logic behind DEI is relatively simple: the principle that no one should be held back in life and work due to an immutable characteristic (race, sex, et cetera) is thankfully widespread and self-evidently moral, and therefore we should try to respect as many people as possible by including them as much as possible. But when incorporating DEI in a business, we inevitably fall into the same traps which humans always fall into when attempting to understand the world: oversimplification.
Humans are gifted at creating policies with unintended consequences, and DEI is no exception. Through efforts to include employees of different racial groups, individuals are sorted into broad categories that do little to serve their current circumstances, genetics, personality, background, and other crucial influences on a person’s life. Grouping black workers, white workers, male employees, female employees, et cetera together is a means of organising along lines which we perceive as meaningful and important, but we only serve to reinforce the collectivist thinking which underpinned the misguided racism of the past.
Seeking to address racial inequalities is admirable, but our logic and approach to doing so is misguided. By grouping black people together and white people together in separate boxes which are viewed as markedly different, we not only deny the uniqueness and individuality of these groups’ members, but we increasingly reinforce the racialised attitude which so many of us have been rightfully raised to avoid. Are black employees expected to have the same opinions and experiences? Why is that? Isn’t that itself a racist presumption? And what exactly is a “black” perspective?
By buying into the same false premises, collectivist logic and faulty reasoning as the anti-scientific racialism of the past, we only serve to perpetuate the fallacies and injustices of the past. The point of opposing racism is not only that it is anti-scientific, immoral and unhelpful, but that any collectivist approach to viewing humans is inherently flawed because it’s too simplistic.
We are so concerned with preventing discrimination against people of colour that we continue to use phrases such as “people of colour”. What do the members of this group truly have in common apart from the fact that they are not white? This is a paper-thin link between diverse individuals worthy of respect, and yet DEI is increasingly used as a means of pursuing equity, a misguided and permanently elusive goal.
The pursuit of “equity” is, upon first impressions, laudable, but what does equity truly refer to? Equity’s logical conclusion is the ruthless pursuit of equality of outcome without any regard for other aspects of distributive justice, such as fairness or equality of opportunity. Equality of outcome is not just immoral, but impossible – true equality of outcome would require that we were all clones of each other, or that some central authority would stamp down on anyone the moment they surpassed their peers in some regard. This is neither an effective nor a moral means of organising a society. It is entirely possible to respect the individuality and humanity of all people without embracing the faulty reasoning of DEI.
Many aspects of racial justice rest upon perceptions of “whiteness”, “systemic racism”, “patriarchy”, “privilege”, and other nebulous concepts. These concepts are unfalsifiable and pervasive because such it suits the activist disciplines: if racism and sexism are truly everywhere, then these activists will never be out of a job, and if our society is inherently racist or sexist, it provides a humanitarian and egalitarian veneer over what is in fact a radical and irresponsible ideology. You couldn’t possibly oppose diversity, equity, or inclusion, because those are such nice words and nice principles, and it is implied that you support discrimination if you question the principles or methodologies behind the movement.
Instead, we should acknowledge arguments about systemic inequalities for what they are: opinions. Data on wage gaps, racial discrimination, crime, housing and other policy areas can be interpreted in many ways, and it is important for debates to occur to determine the best means of improving our society. What is not helpful is the use of flowery language and vague arguments to sanitise what are often illogical, radical and misguided approaches to our society’s problems. DEI is one of these ideas: one that looks great on the surface, but does little in practice to help us get closer to a world which respects individuality, truth and freedom.