On August 3rd, 2023, Hedley May was delighted to welcome the members of its Advisory Council – Liz Bingham, Tunde Banjoke and Asif Sadiq – to discuss their thoughts on the DE&I agenda in the corporate world. This was a final session after the council had graciously provided us with three fantastic years of service and expertise.
A passionate and deeply personal discussion underlined how much progress still needs to be made, but also contained notes of optimism for the future and strong messages about what makes an effective leader. Here, we discuss four key themes that emerged from our conversation:
The DE&I conversation has regressed, due to a backlash and complacency.
Participants in our discussion expressed concerns that some of the progress that has been made in the DE&I conversation since the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement has more recently been reversed – evidenced, for example, by legislative proposals in the US and lawsuits against perceived reverse discrimination.
One reason is a backlash from people who see the diversity agenda as a threat to them, bringing risks but no benefits. As one of our participants said: “People have felt threatened, as if they only have something to lose and nothing to gain. This sentiment has been built upon by those who want to maintain the status quo”.
There was also a sense that some companies are resting on past DE&I initiatives to proclaim: ‘job done’, perceiving that diversity no longer needs to prioritised, because it had already been ‘achieved’ within the organisation. Among other things, this complacency can lead to the alienation of diverse employees who are celebrated by leadership in sporadic “feel-good moments”, but do not see a more fundamental change in their firms’ day-to-day culture.