May 23, 2024 • By Dennis Beaver

Something close to an obituary for DEI — diversity, equity, inclusion — appeared on the cover of the Wall Street Journal’s April 21 business section titled, “Diversity Goals Are Disappearing – Dozens of firms [are] deleting the word ‘diverse’ or cutting whole sections.”

I have a confession to make. Like most people, I’ve heard lots of bad stuff about DEI but could not explain what it is or how it is supposed to benefit society. Before writing this story, I phoned several lawyer friends and asked them to describe what DEI actually is.

No one could provide a clear answer, but I often heard, “It is reverse discrimination and punishes White people for being successful.”

So, to fill the gap in my own lack of understanding, I interviewed New York-based attorney Ann Thomas, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Stinson LLP.

She is a dynamic lecturer for LearnFormula, a provider of continuing legal education podcasts, and explained what DEI is and how, sadly, “It has been misinterpreted and hijacked. Still, DEI can accomplish a great deal of good for society when in the right hands.”

I asked her to explain how it should work:

“Dennis, the goal is to promote fair treatment and full participation of all people, especially groups that have historically been underrepresented or subject to discrimination. In a nutshell, the ideal of DEI is to create a place where all are welcome to have a place at the table regardless of identity, race or orientation, provided they have the skills necessary to do the job.”

Becoming aware of Unconscious Bias

“Since the goal is to level the playing field, the term unconscious bias needs to be understood,” she points out, adding, “We all have them and are generally unaware of how they exclude people because of job requirements we’ve always had, but that may not have been relevant to the actual job itself.

“For example, the legal profession is seeing far more people of color and varied religions entering the field.

“Our firm is looking for lawyers and summer associates who have demonstrated one quality that a good lawyer needs and has nothing to do with the law school they attended, grades, race, gender or ethnicity, and that is grit.

“Grit, having dealt with adversity and succeeded in life and law school, has opened up the way we look at recruiting and expanding the candidate pool.”

Remedies Limitations on Access to Opportunities, Retention

A glaring example of limiting access to opportunity was discussed by Anna Papalia in her book “Interviewology,” that I reviewed in March. Anna pointed out:

“HR consultants will admit that for the longest time women are often required to check every criteria on a job description before applying, but for men, if they meet around 60%, they will still apply. So, if you don’t include unnecessary criteria, then you can accommodate women who otherwise would be able to do the job.”

To Thomas, “That’s the perfect example of where a knowledgeable employer will eliminate criteria that are not relevant to the job. And it escalates into retention, feeling included and a pathway for career advancement — equity and support — in being able to go up the ladder as everyone else wants to.”

Is DEI Contrary to a Society Based on Meritocracy?

Thomas was quick to point out that one of the false arguments against DEI is that it enables people to get a job that they are not otherwise qualified for.

“We have never really had a true meritocracy,” she maintains. “Social and economic class has a lot to do with advancement.”

Lyle Sussman, professor emeritus, College of Business, University of Louisville, and a frequent contributor to this column, agrees: “The belief that America is racially color-blind is a fallacy. The belief that it may become racially color-blind is a utopian dream.”

Why the Uproar?

Thomas feels there is an assumption that DEI, “Will replace those in power with people who have not had power, but it isn’t about replacement, and instead, it is about expanding the pie. There a lot of unnecessary fear: ‘I’m not going to have a job, get promoted, have an opportunity, and if I don’t get one, then the conclusion is that there is something wrong with me.’

“But, that’s false reasoning, as more likely than not it is because you are not the best candidate, nothing more.”

We want to be with People Like Us

There is a concrete business aspect to DEI, as Thomas notes: “People want to be in the company of and have business relationships with those who are like them. That is the essence of an affinity group, and our law firm, like many businesses, has seen a significant increase in clientele because of who we hired. This is one practical benefit of DEI.”

Time will tell, but reports of the death of DEI might just be premature.

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers,
which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993,
or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1 – at –