As entirely expected by anybody who has spent time with white people, corporate America’s post–George Floyd commitment to diversity was as enduring as a Kardashian’s love of Pepsi. A new study of over 600 companies from workforce analytics firm Revelio Labs reports that “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” officers, hired en masse after the protests following
Floyd’s murder, are now being quietly phased out of their positions. The study found that the attrition for DEI officers was 33 percent at the end of 2022, compared with 21 percent for non-DEI roles.
For some corporations these days, “diversity” is basically a white lady with dreadlocks wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and sharing her potato salad recipe with a white CEO ahead of their trip to Davos, which they’ve rebranded as a cookout in Switzerland.
Again, none of this is surprising. Corporate America is never going to be a leader in diversity or inclusion, because most of the white plutocrats running corporations do not want to hear from diverse voices—or hire them. Business leaders can hardly handle being told no by the government of the United States and are willing to spend millions of dollars buying politicians to avoid this fate. People like that don’t countenance being told they need to run their companies so as to be more welcoming to nonwhite people, and they certainly don’t listen to that kind of advice from a Black person.
That’s why the entire conceit of a DEI officer is kind of ridiculous. It’s not a surprise that these positions are being phased out, because it’s a no-win job in the first place. DEI officers are tasked with everything from changing hiring practices at a company to holding racist managers accountable, and yet they have no actual power to do these things. If a CEO doesn’t listen to the CFO, the company could wind up with huge fines from financial regulators. If a CEO doesn’t listen to the general counsel, the company could wind up getting sued into oblivion. But if a CEO doesn’t listen to the DEI officer, there’s rarely any legal blowback. Sure, there are some human resource violations that could lead to employee lawsuits, but those are usually one-off instances, and anything truly dangerous to the company will likely get filtered through the legal department anyway. Unless the DEI officer becomes aware of a situation in which a diversity and inclusion issue could trigger litigation—for example, some kind of “hostile workplace” claim—their “advice” can safely be ignored. And it often is.
The only thing that can force a company to take diversity seriously is public outcry. Indeed, it was public outcry that led to so many of these DEI people getting hired in the first place. But the public is fickle and easily distracted, and people are often unwilling to put their money where their best intentions lie—myself included. The Revelio study specifically called out Twitter for its “infamous diversity team layoffs” after Elon Musk took over the company last fall. I believe the Proud Boys care more about diversity, at least cosmetically, than some of our favorite white South African social media moguls do. And yet I’m still (grudgingly) on that decrepit and increasingly racially hostile platform (for now).
The disappearance of DEI staff is all the more notable as it comes amid nearly incessant mewling by corporate America, Republican politicians, and their conservative media sycophants about so-called “woke” culture. These days, the richest and most powerful white men in the US regularly cast themselves as victims of alleged “mobs” who won’t let them do whatever it was they used to do in their “good old days.” But the most influential chief diversity officer in the world wouldn’t be able to get these people to stop using the N-word at their golf clubs, and would get called “too woke” if they asked.
The truth about business leaders is that they are followers. They will never lead the way to social change; they will only be dragged there, kicking and screaming, once they fear the rest of society will leave them behind. And society is not nearly ready or willing to lead these people toward more inclusive workplaces. Corporate America’s abandonment of whatever promises it made during the George Floyd reckoning merely mirrors that of the government and voters, who stopped pretending to care about reform and social justice the minute the police finished crushing Black Lives Matter protests. Joe Biden ran on the promise to do something about police brutality, and then allowed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to get murdered by the mere possibility of a Senate filibuster. New York City (where a lot of these corporations have outposts) elected a jackboot former cop as mayor. What did you think Amazon was going to do with its diversity initiatives—be the last true keeper of the flame for equality and justice? This is a company that has to be shamed into giving its workers the right to pee. They’d only care about hiring more Black people if we had genetically larger bladders (we don’t), and that’s not the part of the urinary tract that causes white male fragility anyway.
If you want to increase diversity in corporate America—as opposed to burning corporate America down and starting over with something not based on rapacious, smash-and-grab capitalism—you don’t need to hire more powerless DEI officers; you need to have a more diverse set of corporate plutocrats. For that, you need to invest in nonwhite business owners, who would hire more diverse workforces if they had the capital to do so. But even that approach keeps white men in the power seat, because they control the flow of most of the capital in this country and thus determine whose business plan gets investments, and whose does not.
And so I’m resigned to living in a world where white corporate leaders consider having to interview a Black candidate before hiring their white nephew an impingement on their First Amendment rights. The really nasty ones probably think diversity initiatives infringe on their Second Amendment rights, too. No amount of DEI officers was ever going to stop white business leaders from behaving this way, but phasing them out is an indication that it’s no longer politically necessary to feign concern.