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Re-naming DEI: Focus on the Work, Not What It's Called

In the wake of legislative attacks against diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, many organizations were faced with challenging questions about where to go with their DEI work. Leaders and shareholders are concerned over potential legal action at this divisive moment.  

In response to these fears, some organizations have taken the approach of re-naming their DEI efforts with rebrands such as “Belonging,” “Employee Experience,” or “People and Culture” more broadly. Others are going so far as to de-fund their DEI efforts altogether. As DEI experts here at Mattingly, we are often asked what to do in response to these concerns and whether a rebrand is the right approach. 

What do diversity, equity, and inclusion really mean? 

Often at the center of movements away from DEI is a fundamental understanding of the concepts. Below are our definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion (Mattingly, 2022): 

  • Diversity is “the presence (and amount) of difference within a given setting,” with our focus being on the setting of the workplace.  

  • Inclusion is defined as “actions that make others feel valued, respected, seen, and heard. Inclusive behaviors enable members from different identity groups to fully contribute their unique perspectives and contributions to the workplace.” 

  • Equity is “the fair treatment of all employees regarding the accessibility of information, opportunities, and resources considering the different circumstances each employee faces.” 

What's in a name (or an acronym)? 

When attacks come against DEI, the temptation can be to simply change the name to avoid legal consequences. While this is one approach, often what is more meaningful is to determine what the goals of your DEI initiatives are.  

Legal attacks often come against diversity initiatives that include quotas, or specific numeric goals for representation. But diversity efforts can come in many forms, including improving recruitment efforts to populations that are missing or under-represented in your organization or increasing retention for populations that are leaving your organization through targeted interventions.  

But it's important to remember that just improving diversity is not enough. Improving inclusion and equity in your organization often involves removing barriers and increasing inclusive behaviors that, in the end, benefit everyone in the organization. These initiatives can go beyond representation data to improve feelings of belonging. Should these initiatives also be de-emphasized in the name of protecting your organization? 

Moving forward 

In the face of these legal challenges, it can be easy to revert to protecting your organization. But what is important to keep at the front of your mind is why these initiatives, departments, and efforts exist in your organization. In order to improve the working lives of everyone, especially those at the margins of society, organizations have invested in DEI.  

If you’re changing the name of these units to protect yourself, what message are you sending to marginalized employees? What efforts are you taking to protect them?  

Looking to take the next step in advancing DEI at your organization? Contact Mattingly Solutions today to learn more about partnering with us to diagnose, build, implement, & assess the impact of your DEI strategy and programming on metric-based outcomes. 


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