During the United States quarantine in 2020, the unjust murder of George Floyd received immense attention and an uprise in community force to combat racial inequality. There was no way one could not have known about this movement; it reached international awareness. Due to this rage, many employees and employers felt the need to speak out about the crisis. Some employees even demanded public announcements from their senior leadership.
With this momentum, companies took initiative by expanding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion roles to demonstrate their advocacy for a more equitable future. There was even a surge in DEI certifications for Human Resource leaders and executive officers. However, as time passed, I realized these newer roles began to feel performative as they reached their depletion during the 2022 economic downfall.
Many companies make it mandatory to celebrate heritage months but hypocritically fail to match this energy by hiring more ethnically diverse employees.
In 2018, I interned for a DEI position at a higher education institution, and in 2019 I joined the DEI initiatives in the technology industry in California. These departments were nothing compared to DEI departments today. After the George Floyd movement, these departments and roles evolved to have more structure, depth and even quantitative data to create fair opportunities. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, DEI roles increased by 55% in 2020. This expansion inspired me to apply for these new DEI roles, and I eventually landed a DEI Specialist position at a startup tech company. Gradually, I began to feel less empowered as there were limitations to these departments, which ultimately influenced my belief that most of these companies have performative, ulterior motives for DEI.
Many companies make it mandatory to celebrate heritage months but hypocritically fail to match this energy by hiring more ethnically diverse employees. We all see these companies celebrating various cultures on social media presences, but what are they doing to retain and recruit Black, Indigenous, and People of Color? Are there budgets and finances allocated to fund these initiatives? Are there enough people in the DEI department to build out these initiatives? And if there are, why do these same companies, who have promised to advocate for racial and social justice, lay off these departments first? Why are the Fortune 500, top-grossing companies laying off DEI roles after making public announcements about sustaining an equitable future? These departments are the first ones to go, and the employees that make up these departments are those who have been historically excluded, marginalized, and oppressed. Thus, hypocritically impacting the depletion in diverse employees. Revelio Labs’ 2023 reports that DEI roles took a 40% rate in layoffs compared to 24% layoff for non-DEI roles, including my position.
During my devastating state of unemployment, I told myself that I didn't want to work for a company that sees DEI as disposable or temporary. It is very apparent that our society is nowhere near the state of equality that we are fighting for, and racial equality will take many lifetimes to achieve. My layoff gave me the determination to reach out to my LinkedIn connections and learn from different DEI professionals to find stability in this space. Many DEI leaders agree that this space is performative; some even told me they could not be activists but only advocates for social equity. They felt their roles have limitations preventing them from being activists. As I am still premature in my DEI journey, this really enriched my understanding of DEI in a corporate setting.
Nonetheless, these inevitable new learnings aren't going to skew my passion for diversifying the workplace and emphasizing the value of intersectional identities. These new learnings are guidelines for us to improve how we challenge what diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice look like in a society that favors white supremacy.