THOUGHT LEADERSHIP

October 3, 2023 / 3 minute read

DEI Headwinds to Tailwinds

Written by Margaret Finley, Director of DEI and Head of Corporate Affairs

A few weeks ago, I joined a panel of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) experts for a discussion about affirmative action — what its future might be, not only for the higher education institutions affected by the June U.S. Supreme Court decision ending college race-based affirmative action programs, but for employers like ADS.

The panel, hosted by the Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC), was well-timed not only because of the Supreme Court’s decision, but because of choices by some corporate leaders to slash their DEI programs. Three years after George Floyd’s murder prompted the country to have long-overdue conversations about race, in some circles it seems, the pendulum is swinging away from corporate investment in diversifying employee and leadership ranks. There have been a number of news stories about this, from ABC News to NPR to Bloomberg to The Washington Post. All cite similar statistics: After ramping up DEI programs in 2020, companies are beginning to cut back. One report found that among 600 companies that laid off workers since 2020, DEI roles were more likely to be phased out than non-DEI positions.

Among some of my DEI peers, there is a feeling of deep concern, something my CMC co-panelist Cynthia Turner, assistant dean and chief diversity officer at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, also pointed out. They worry for their futures, not only as employees who fear a layoff, but as people committed to helping build a more equitable world.

However, as I said during the panel, I feel hopeful and optimistic. Maybe it’s the company I work for, or maybe it’s the years I have spent doing this work. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two. But I think this backlash against DEI in the workplace will be short lived. I have seen it before: Society makes strides to create opportunities for those who historically have had more and higher hurdles to cross before reaching their goals. Critics prompt those efforts to rein back. Rinse. Repeat.

And while it might be true that some companies are cutting back on these programs, others, including ADS, are staying the course. Those companies and their leaders recognize that the best and brightest talent already are demanding workplaces that are invested in DEI. Those that don’t have such programs in place are likely losing out on potential candidates who are opting to find meaningful careers in places that are invested in building a better world.

I am proud to say that ADS’ core commitment to diversity has not wavered. Focusing on increasing diversity, especially at the management level, remains one of our company goals. And while we know we have a long way to go, we are not backing away from those promises. In fiscal year 2023, diversity at the management level increased 39%. In the prior fiscal year, 55% of our director-level hires were women.

That is measurable progress. And that progress not only improves our company’s day-to-day operations and forward-looking strategy, but it sets us up for success in recruiting and retaining our future workforce. ADS is not alone in remaining committed to DEI efforts. Large corporations, including Microsoft and Salesforce, have publicly restated their commitment to diversity and equity following the Supreme Court’s decision.

Here is a thing I have observed in my years doing this work: The pendulum always swings back. So, while it might feel like we are taking two steps backward for every single step forward, I know without question that our society is in a better place now than it was a decade ago, and I believe it will be in a better place 10 years from now.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Let us take comfort in that and let us celebrate the companies that help move the arc in a more just, equitable direction.  

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