Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

9/18: Effectiveness of DEI Programs

In recent years, there has been an increasing emphasis in the corporate, academic, and government worlds for “DEI”–Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion–programs. In efforts to increase the diversity of their workforces and other stakeholders, these entities have established DEI departments, training, report cards, and other initiatives to push the effort forward.

  • How effective are these programs, really?
  • What efforts have been successful (and which have not), and why?
  • Can successful programs be easily replicated, or are the reasons for the success confounded with entity-specific attributes?
  • How strong is the evidence that a diverse workforce is a “better” (whatever that means) workforce?

To get the discussion started, below are two links to two “Freakonomics” podcasts–with transcripts if you would prefer to read–and skip to the relevant bits–rather than to listen. As with most of the Freakonomics episodes, the associated web pages include links to the academic research cited during the discussion.

I recall reading some similar-themed articles in the NY Times and the Washington Post, but can’t put my hands on them at the moment. I’ll post them later if I have the time.


  • Here’s a link ( to the article in last Sunday’s New York Times about colleges and universities requiring “diversity statements” from potential new faculty hires that John O’Shea mentioned at our previous meeting. In my opinion, it makes for depressing reading:

    I think these requirements may violate the First Amendment (compelled speech), at least in the case of universities that receive state or Federal funding (i.e., nearly all of them), trample on the concept of academic freedom, and undermine the goal of exposing students to a variety of viewpoints.

    What’s particularly jarring to me is that some undergraduate – and even graduate – students seem to think they’re “unsafe” if a potential faculty member has ever questioned the need for diversity statements, even if he or she has never questioned the desirability of diversity.

    Finally, the requirement for diversity statements seems futile, since it’s so easily gamed by potential hires looking up or hiring guidance to help them prepare statements that will pass muster. It’s become purely performative virtue.

    • Christopher Rufo has been a bit of a bomb thrower for the anti-woke right, but his recently published “America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything”, despite its sensationalist title, is a pretty straightforward historical account of the origins of Critical Race Theory and DEI. Alarmist it is, but as the Economist’s review points out, most of the crazy language in the book consists of direct quotes from the founding persons of CRT, BLM, and DEI.

    • 1. Definitions
      It might be helpful to in mind some definitions of “diversity”, “equity”, and “inclusion” for Monday’s discussion.

      Two years ago, when the Blue Hill Concert Association decided to implement a Diversity/ Equity/ Inclusion policy. While working with another member of the BHCA Board to prepare a proposed policy, we searched for definitions of those terms that other organizations have used to develop their own policies. We found scores of definitions. The definitions of each term were sometimes unclear and sometimes overlapped with definitions of other terms.
      The following were the definitions that we used in the proposed policy, including brief statements to put the application of each definition in the context of BCHA’s mission and operations:

      “Diversity means fostering multiple perspectives from a range of race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status, and political perspective. “Diversity” includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all-inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. In the context in which BHCA operates, the most important diversity issues we wish to address, at least initially, in our operations are those of race and ethnicity, gender, and age, particularly with respect to choices of performers and programs, as well as age and income of its audience.

      “Equity means actively responding to bias, harassment, and discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status. Again, we will focus initially on achieving equity in our operations, particularly in our choices of performers and programs, with respect to race and ethnicity, age, and gender, as well as the age and income of our audience and their familiarity with classical music. In addition, the Board members will endeavor to improve their understanding of, and responses to, issues of equity and diversity in the field of classical music and to apply those understandings and responses to our activities.

      “Inclusion means pursuing deliberate efforts to ensure that our operations welcome and respect differences in perspectives so that every individual involved in our operations (including Board members, organizational partners, audience members, and performers) feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. BHCA will focus initially on attempting to recruit Board who represent sectors of our community who are not currently well-represented, such as people younger than 40; on broadening our audience to include more families with young children; and on including lower-income members of our community in our audience.”

      2. Diversity/Equity/Inclusion training and goals
      In his post for the discussion on Monday, Scott posed the following questions with respect to organizations creating DEI departments, training employees, issuing DEI “report cards, and other initiatives to push the DEI effort forward:
      • How effective are these programs, really?
      • What efforts have been successful (and which have not), and why?
      • Can successful programs be easily replicated, or are the reasons for the
      success confounded with entity-specific attributes?
      • How strong is the evidence that a diverse workforce is a “better” (whatever that means) workforce?

      Here are some initial responses to some of those questions and the general idea of diversity/equity/inclusion in the workplace:

      • Some commentators say – and surveys seem to back them up – that many DEI training programs don’t work. However, the commentators and surveys seem to indicate not that such training programs can’t work, but that they could work if they were more thoughtfully designed and implemented.

      • As it so often does, Texas has taken the lead in instructing its citizens what, and what not, to think. In June 2023, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that:

      “… prohibits diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices at the state’s public colleges and universities beginning in 2024. Moreover, Texas public institutions of higher education cannot require DEI statements from job candidates nor require DEI training of students, faculty, or staff.

      “According to the legislation, a DEI office is an entity that “promotes differential treatment of or provides special benefits to people on the basis of race, color, or ethnicity.” As a result of the new legislation, students, staff, and faculty can sue public colleges and universities if they are required to participate in DEI-related trainings or activities.”


      I’m not sure which is worse: this Texas law, or the requirement by some colleges and universities submit diversity statements in order to be considered for hiring.

      • I think asking whether a more diverse workforce is (in any sense) a “better” workforce is missing some key elements. Those elements might include, for example, what the organization’s goals are with respect its role in society (if, in fact, it has any goals other than making a profit in the case of a for-profit organization); how the organization measures and values its reputation among its customers, suppliers, employees, investors, regulators, or the general public and whether it believes its reputation will be enhanced if its workforce (or board membership, management personnel, supplier network or customer base) is more diverse; what skills the organization believes its workforce requires; whether the organization believes that aiming for a more diverse workforce (or board membership, management personnel, supplier network, or customer base) will help in employee recruiting and/or retention; what resources the organization willing and able to devote to achieving greater diversity, etc.

      According to one group advocating workforce diversity, some of its benefits may include:

      “Increased productivity: A diverse workplace allows for more ideas and processes. This diversity of talent means a broader range of skills among employees, as well as a diversity of experiences and perspectives which increases the potential for increased productivity

      “Increased creativity: As various cultures and backgrounds work together, the opportunity for increased creativity exists. This is because there are more people with differing perspectives and solutions to problems, allowing for a greater chance of a workable solution to a workplace problem.

      “Improved cultural awareness: A diverse range of cultures within the workplace allows companies to deal with the different nuances within a global marketplace. If a company does business with China, for example, having an employee who can speak Mandarin is an asset and can lead to improved workplace relations.

      “A positive reputation: Companies that have a diverse workplace are often perceived as better employers. Potential employees want an employer who accepts and is tolerant of all backgrounds and who treats their employees fairly.

      “Increase in marketing opportunities: If potential employees or customers see that a company represents a diverse workplace, it makes them feel like they can relate to the company more. Using advertising that depicts mature-aged, differently-abled, or ethnically diverse people encourages applicants to apply, promotes a positive reputation, increases marketplace awareness, and generates a more diverse client-base.”


      Of course, whether any of these potential benefits are actually realized in a particular organization as a result of a diversity/equity/inclusion program might be difficult to demonstrate.

      • A survey published this year by the Pew Research Center indicates that, among employed US workers, a majority of respondents in all categories except one (self-identified as “Republican/Lean Republican”) said they thought that “focusing on DEI at work is “a good thing” and that diversity in their workplace has had a positive impact. Depending on how an organization values its ability to recruit and retain its workers, this survey indicates that diversity in the workplace may be worth pursuing for that reason alone.


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