Poll: Americans support DEI programs

Nationally, 61% of Americans support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, a Washington Post/Ipsos survey conducted in mid-April of 2024 shows (read story here).

The survey showed 34% consider DEI programs at companies “a bad thing.” That number roughly conforms with the percentage of voters who consider themselves Republicans, and Trump’s baseline support, although those respondents aren’t necessarily the same people.

DEI, which Wikipedia says (here) emerged from affirmative action, has become a GOP culture war symbol, and probably many people have only a vague idea or none at all of what these programs actually are.

Wikipedia describes diversity, equity, and inclusion as “values.” Specifically,

“Diversity refers to the presence of variety within the organizational workforce … [of] gender, culture, ethnicity, religion, disability, class, age or opinion. Equity refers to concepts of fairness and justice, such as fair compensation and substantive equality … [and] usually also includes a focus on societal disparities and allocating resources and ‘decision making authority to groups that have historically been disadvantaged’, and taking ‘into consideration a person’s unique circumstances, adjusting treatment accordingly so that the end result is equal.’ Finally, inclusion refers to creating an organizational culture that creates an experience where ‘all employees feel their voices will be heard’, and a sense of belonging and integration.”

Obviously, there are some controversial elements here; Wikipedia says criticism is particularly directed at the “effectiveness of its tools, such as diversity training, its effect on free speech and academic freedom, … [and] on political or philosophical grounds.” And although one might support diversity, equity, and inclusion in concept, implementation of DEI in practice has sometimes conflicted with other values such as free speech or academic freedom (Wikipedia discusses specific cases).

In looking at the results of a poll or survey like this one, it’s hard to know how much respondents know about DEI in practice, but one surmises they’re responding to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness as ideals; that’s how I would respond to those terms. When you get into the weeds of specific cases, such as mandatory diversity statements in academia, DEI efforts can feel coercive and jarring.

I’m not taking a position on DEI here, because it’s a complex issue I haven’t studied in any depth and don’t feel qualified to speak about. I can say, though, that like all superficial bumper-sticker politics, blanket approval or condemnation doesn’t work for me. When you talk about policies that affect people’s lives, you also should ask what problem you’re trying to solve, whether the policy solves it, and at what cost to other values or goals. It’s never one-size-fits-all, and when proponents or opponents try to reduce the issue to that, beware.

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