You Asked, We Answered: How to Navigate Challenges in the Current DEI Landscape 

Group of business people raise hands up to agree with speaker in the meeting room seminar

In February, YW Boston hosted a webinar featuring speakers from Foley and Hoag LLC, who shared legal insights for moving forward in the face of resistance to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. The hour-long webinar was packed with useful tips for navigating what sometimes feels like a minefield of legal risks and challenges to DEI that have seen an uptick in the year since the Supreme Court of the United States effectively banned Affirmative Action in college admissions. 

The webinar chat was alive with questions from attendees, most of which our speakers got to answer, but many lingered. We connected with YW Boston’s Vice President of Programs Anouska Bhattacharyya, Ph.D. to get insights about navigating this difficult time in the DEI world. 

How can organizations move their DEI work forward in a rapidly changing environment?  

Whether in 2020 or 2024, organizations who care about DEI have had to do so within an ever-changing workplace landscape. Today’s workforce is the most multi-generational of our lifetimes and needs to meet the concerns of a board of directors, funders, community partners, and other invested constituents. Change can feel like uncertainty; uncertainty can breed mistrust. To counter this trend, YW Boston recommends cultivating clarity. What is your vision for DEI at your organization? How does it contribute to your company goals? How will it impact your bottom line? What are your success indicators?  

YW Boston often uses the Lewin’s Change Model to facilitate organizations developing and implementing their DEI vision. We support organizations in their efforts to clarify their strategy, identifying what needs to change, how to create buy-in, how to craft the right communications plan, which metrics to track, and most importantly how to effectively secure this strategy in their organization’s long-term goals.  

The organizations that see the most success in their DEI efforts are leaning on their strengths to address their pain points—not acting out of fear of retribution.

How can we demonstrate the value and impact of DEI? 

There are many ways to measure the value and impact of DEI in the workplace. Depending on who is asking you this question, it behooves you to be fluent in many metrics. There may be a moral imperative related to your organization’s mission. There may be a social benefit as it relates to your company values. There is also a business case for the value and impact of DEI for your organization’s bottom line.  

Research shows that 67% of job seekers cite workplace diversity as important to them (Glassdoor). Employees want to know their employer cares about their individual needs, whether it is support for their historically marginalized identities, an attractive employee benefits package, flexible accommodations for caretaking responsibilities, or simply the ability to see their humanity amidst a changing socioeconomic landscape. Companies with inclusive talent practices generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee (Deloitte). In fact, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile, and those in the top quartile for racial diversity are 33% more likely to outperform their peers (McKinsey & Company).  

Another way to answer this question is to consider: “What are the consequences if we don’t engage in an effective DEI strategy?” It is likely you already have data for this. What do employees say in their exit interviews? Why did that department struggle to hit its team goals last year? Do vendors and community partners communicate honestly with you? Has there been high turnover or volatility on your board? 

 Without this data, you may be overlooking the ways a DEI strategy can add value to your organization. YW Boston can support you in discovering and diagnosing what levers are most significant to your success. 

How are others doing this work? 

A large pharmaceutical company reached out to YW Boston after 2020 because they wanted to “do something.” They were a well-resourced, global brand with high visibility in the Greater Boston area. Their staff were enthusiastic about the opportunity to focus on racial and gender equity, and their leadership team co-signed staff efforts. They embarked upon YW Boston’s InclusionBoston program—a year of action plan development and implementation that was kickstarted by a series of dialogues and courageous conversations. Our expert facilitators guided the discussion away from social events—monthly potlucks, a book club, snazzy guest speakers—to talking about policies, structures, and internal processes. 

Their newly hired Chief Diversity Officer called us into an urgent meeting with their lawyer: “This is not what we signed up for. These kinds of conversations are dangerous. We could be sued for talking about this.” This company was fearful that identifying and acknowledging inequity was tantamount to admitting fault and committing discriminatory practices. They wanted to renege on the entire program; DEI be damned!  

We spoke to their Chief Scientific Officer and asked “What happens when mistakes occur in the lab? How do you reconcile fault with excellence?” He said: “We don’t want mistakes to occur, of course; but the worst thing would be if we never knew about the mistakes because we would never be able to solve them.”   

YW Boston recommended cross-pollinating the quality assurance strategies of their labs to the people and culture building efforts in their offices. Fear of litigation turned into pride for their diversity of thought and more equitable practices. Innovation in product development led to innovation in recruitment efforts. And their robust scientific data collection structures became company-wide data practices.  

The organizations that see the most success in their DEI efforts are leaning on their strengths to address their pain points—not acting out of fear of retribution. At a time when DEI is under attack, it’s more important than ever that organizations recognize this. As YW Boston President & CEO Beth Chandler reminds us, confronting fears surrounding DEI is about more than just eliminating the fear of change; it’s about pushing beyond the fear and finding the courage to drive change: “Some may say that you need to be fearless, but that implies the absence of fear. Instead, I call on you to be courageous.”  

To learn more about how to be courageous while navigating today’s DEI landscape, check out these resources: