Bloomberg Law
June 13, 2024, 8:30 AM UTC

To Manage DEI Risk, Gain Buy-In With Coaching, Consensus Building

Ann Thomas
Ann Thomas

A year after the US Supreme Court effectively removed affirmative action in college admissions, bills restricting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have been introduced in more than half of states and recently enacted in Florida, Texas, and Utah. The pushback has changed the tenor of DEI conversations in many offices, overwhelming and exhausting DEI proponents who’ve worked hard to open doors.

Leaders across industries are carefully weighing the risks of continuing their DEI initiatives—and many have concluded there are also costs to discontinuing them. This approach deprives candidates from underrepresented backgrounds of opportunities that proponents of diverse workplaces have fought hard for.

But progress doesn’t stop. With a nuanced approach that balances advocacy with understanding and fosters constructive dialogue across differing views, companies can still be diverse, inclusive places to work.

Build relationships that bridge divides and foster understanding across differences. In this highly charged moment, people seek out social circles and information that affirms and reinforces their viewpoints. From social media and online communities to religious institutions, social groups, and even news curation, it’s never been easier to self-select our environments.

But at work, we interact with people of diverse backgrounds and differing viewpoints—and companies need employees who work well together, absent any DEI initiatives. Promoting mentoring programs, strategically assigning tasks that leverage diverse skill sets, and encouraging participation in team projects are all ways to encourage meaningful interactions at work.

Companies can help employees deepen these connections with informal opportunities to socialize. Over time, the connections people forge at work with people outside their affinity group can help them better understand perspectives different than their own.

Embrace a growth mindset and apply coaching skills to empower others. Many individuals believe DEI initiatives challenge tradition, established practices, merit-based systems, and individual liberties.

Proponents of DEI may disagree with these concerns, but disregarding dissent creates an impasse and invalidates individuals’ concerns. Instead, seek to better understand the underlying issues and concerns people have about DEI. Leverage key coaching skills—ask insightful questions, and maintain curiosity and thoughtful responses instead of immediate reactions.

Productive discourse can help allay some fears about DEI work, and bringing up real-world scenarios can help initiate these conversations in the workplace. For example, after reviewing decades of automotive safety research, Volvo is redesigning some of its systems to make cars safer for women. These changes won’t make cars less safe for men but will reduce the risk of injury to women in accidents. This exercise can help your employees begin to see the value of diverse perspectives.

Identify and speak to the values and emotions beneath the rhetoric. Both proponents and opponents of DEI yearn for fairness, although their definitions and approaches may significantly differ. DEI advocates can start with the value of fairness for building a consensus.

Agreement, however small, creates more willingness to hear the other side and deepen understanding. Some individuals who are concerned about DEI initiatives fear a reversal of roles, where historically marginalized groups are empowered and advantages for straight white men decrease, for example. It’s important to acknowledge this unspoken fear and also debunk it: DEI isn’t about reversing the power hierarchy; it’s about finding a way to value everyone for who they are.

Prioritize training and development. Engaging educational experiences that spur intellectual curiosity, practicality, and empathy are key to overcoming resistance to DEI initiatives. Offer clear, evidence-based explanations of the benefits of DEI and dispel misconceptions.

Highlight studies that demonstrate the positive impact of diverse teams on innovation, intelligence, and productivity, and the economic benefits of inclusion. Provide practical strategies that people can use in their daily interactions. Foster empathy by amplifying the voices of those most affected by discrimination and inequity to ensure DEI efforts remain grounded in lived experiences rather than abstract principles.

At the same time, audit your policies, practices, and procedures for unwritten rules that help maintain the status quo or adversely impact underrepresented groups.

DEI work requires a multifaceted approach and a long-term perspective. By engaging with dissenting voices from a place of curiosity, building authentic relationships across divides, and challenging systemic barriers, we advance a more just and inclusive society.

Regardless of setbacks, DEI can’t fail in the long run because it is intertwined with the evolution of humanity.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Author Information

Ann Thomas is chief diversity and inclusion officer at Stinson.

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To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alison Lake at; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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