Editor’s Note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column on management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Maybe it’s Halloween just around the corner or the mixed economic messages coming from all angles, but as summer turns into fall, there’s a lot of weirdness in the market. One of the weirdest things I see and hear is that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is used as a scapegoat for everything from strident partisan politics to layoffs and downsizing. workforce. notice.

If I can give you the world’s shortest management lesson in response, it’s this: “Please stop!”

Donald Thompson

Your DEI initiatives are not a catch-all for the organizational or societal turbulence you are currently facing. Throwing the term “DEI” into a memo or announcement doesn’t magically protect you like a shield or support you like a pair of crutches.

Again: “Please stop!”


For those of us working with organizations to create DEI initiatives, it may seem that we are already a long way off. However, this effort often reveals something completely different – ​​most companies are just beginning their journey. Executives and managers are asked to consider the ideas and programs they did not learn in their MBA programs or train earlier in their career.

In these cases, it helps to remember that the journey begins at some point on a metaphorical mind map based on many internal and external factors. What we specialize in The diversity movement is to meet our customers where they are, and then partner to achieve meaningful gains.

Obviously, however, one would think that we have passed the point where selling DEI programming is necessary. I have yet to read a study that finds that diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations fare worse than their peers. In fact, studies conducted over the past five years or more universally demonstrate the power of DEI-forward companies. However, let’s just say for the record: if you think DEI isn’t essential, you probably don’t know what DEI really is.

DEI is not the old school one-day training programs of the 1980s and 1990s. Today, DEI is a data-driven, strategic approach to workplace culture, brand expansion , talent attraction and employee retention.

Infusing DEI into brand DNA is becoming very important – here’s how leaders can do it

For example, in the area of ​​talent retention and attraction, having a strong focus on DEI helps you tap into a larger pool of talent, increase trust among colleagues, and reduce turnover. . From this point of view, a a positive company culture is no longer just “nice to have”. A healthy culture is a business imperative. Cultivating a culture of belonging that aligns with personal values ​​through DEI can create professional happiness, which improves business results.


What I’ve seen recently is troubling – C-suite executives are using DEI as a scapegoat for a number of the economic challenges they’re facing, particularly around layoffs. If you are a CEO and you have to make the difficult decision to lay off workers, of course you have to be thoughtful. People’s livelihoods are at stake, and many organizations take years to recoup brand equity lost in high-profile downsizing events.

But, as a leader, you can’t just insert “DEI” into an ad as a signal that you’ve been more humane or thoughtful in layoffs. Here are several concrete reasons why it won’t work:

  • Using DEI as a shield is inauthentic for your employees, former employees and their families. Reporting remorse is not the same as genuine regret.
  • You invite scrutiny by employees, local political and civic leaders, community activists, and the media if you say you used DEI in the termination process.
  • So far no one has provided a good answer to the main question: “How – exactly – do you take DEI into consideration with layoffs, and what does that even mean?”


The Merriam-Webster dictionary officially added “signaling virtue” last month. It is defined as: “The act or practice of conspicuously display its awareness and attention to political issues, social and racial justice issues, etc., especially instead of acting effectively. According to dictionary publishers, the phrase has only been around since 2013, but it is currently among the top 6% of words included in ‘search popularity’. Obviously, people are becoming familiar with the phrase and its implications.

Using DEI as a crutch when there is bad news is a classic virtue signal use – false words rather than genuine action. The downside here is that this practice deeply undermines the real power of DEI initiatives and the great work being done to overcome inequalities in the workplace and in communities.

Let’s face it: many people never fully recover emotionally or financially from a layoff. The signaling of virtue in these cases is not only glaring, but the opposite of the kind of high-octane leadership we need as the workplace (and the world) becomes more empathetic. The last thing you want as a senior executive is to be tarnished by a label when it comes to something as personal and emotional as downsizing.

Layoffs have legal and brand implications. As with any crisis in your organization, you need to exercise careful thought and thought into how you communicate, not only for the sake of disrupted lives, but for those you need to keep working, grow, prosper and win.

Write in the harvard business review, Corey Jones, Daina Middleton and Rebecca Weaver explain, “Whether you’re CEO or team leader, when meeting a concerned employee, displaying humility and vulnerability will signal that you are not taking the situation lightly or that you only care about the situation. the health and well-being of the company. Instead, they retort, “Demonstrating that you’re human will allow you to better connect with employees – both those leaving and those staying.”

Culture is now at the center of how organizations win in the marketplace. We need more empathy, trust, and collaboration at work, so don’t undermine your DEI programming by selling it for short-term gain. Use authentic storytelling and honest language to explain what you did and what you plan to do in the future. The long-term view can help your organization navigate tough conversations while creating the kind of culture you and your stakeholders desire.

About the Author

Donald Thompson is CEO and co-founder of The diversity movement. His leadership memoirs, Underrated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, is available wherever books are sold. He has extensive experience as an executive and board member, including in a digital marketing agency. WalkWest. Donald is a thought leader on achieving goals, culture change and exponential growth. An entrepreneur, keynote speaker, author, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, he is also a board member of organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. Donald is the host of the “High Octane Leadershippodcast. The Diversity Movement has created a suite of employee experience products that personalize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology, and expert-curated content. micro-learning platform,Microvideos by The Diversity Movement“, was recently named one of the fast businessWorld Changing Ideas 2022.” IED Browser is a Chief Diversity Officer in a box subscription service that provides small and medium-sized businesses with the tools, guidance and content that drive action and results. Connect or follow him on LinkedIn to learn more.