Smart organizations make DEI organic

Our society has been looking at DEI (diversity, equity, inclusiveness) from a top-down perspective. That’s where wonks, bureaucrats, academicians, and politician’s live. Instead, how about a ground-level look at DEI?

Employers are desperate to find workers with good attitudes and aptitudes. They could care less about the make-up of the candidates, about their color, gender, age, politics, religion, ethnicity or sexual identity. They have sharply raised wages ever since Covid to attract new workers. They almost all have offered enhanced benefit packages, including expensive health care.

With the economy nearing full employment, jobless rates are less than 3% in much of Wisconsin. The competition for good people is intense. Once hired, companies have sharpened their on-boarding processes to provide tender, loving care to their new hires. Therefore, job hunters really don’t need DEI bureaucrats to help them land a job with a good career path.

Smart companies surround their people with attention, including a career plan, a stay-well health care plan and a retirement plan. They all improve retention.

The same dynamics are at work at colleges and universities. In the face of declining enrollment at almost all campuses, except at elite and flagship schools, education leaders are also hungry for new students.

Again, they are blind to the personal profiles of applicants. Most campuses have lots of help for disadvantaged people of all stripes. They have become much more flexible in meeting people where they are in their lives. They offer customized career/education plans.

As one example, certificates for competencies are much more available. Another example is a wider array of online classes that help with careers.

One way of looking at making workplaces and campuses more fair is wide-spread organic efforts to promote student and worker initiatives for success. In smart organizations, leaders and managers are sensitive to the needs of individuals. Obviously, they still have to perform.

It has become organizational DNA to welcome all kinds of people. Companies know they need a wide range of skills and capabilities that come with a diverse workforce.

Most small and medium companies do DEI as a matter of course. They need the talent. They do not hire DEI bureaucrats to concoct a respectful culture.

The same should be true of campuses, except for the special hurdle of high college costs, which make financial experts essential and available for students. Those specialists help students avoid mountains of debt.

One diversity solution is community colleges with both technical and baccalaureate tracks. They are geared to help a diverse student body with many different career ambitions to overcome hurdles and challenges that life presents. They are relatively inexpensive and have classes for a wide range of occupational goals.

They ask their students: “What trips your trigger? What are you good at? Where do you want to be 10 years from now?” Then they take the person’s existing proficiencies and augment them with an education plan. That is a core activity, not a DEI activity.

Employers also know full well that some people have gaps or deficiencies in their knowledge. Instead of subjecting them to “remedial programs,” they should be offered step-by-step programs that give them a path to success. On the-job-training works well in that regard. The positive emphasis is on moving ahead, not on one’s deficiencies.

The reality I see is that most organizations are already working hard to be fair and welcoming.

That is an organic explanation for why the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents recently agreed to step back from DEI structural resources in a compromise with the university that landed $800 million in new funding.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos insisted that DEI be an organic part of student success. Some Republicans see DEI as a political stance that is divisive by its nature. Vos’ down-to-earth thinking carried the day.

A segment-blind look at the world also prevailed when the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down affirmative action.

On a pragmatic note, campuses, companies and public agencies should still be held accountable, from the CEO and chancellor on down, for fairness in the classroom and workplace.

It shouldn’t be a political or bureaucratic exercise. Fairness and helpful guidance need to be endemic.

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